Knight, Death and the Devil is one of the three “master prints” by Albrecht Dürer, widely held to represent the pinnacle of his skill as an engraver, if not European printmaking in general. A rich, intellectually complex composition, it depicts a steadfast knight, indifferent to the entreaties of Death and the Devil as they try to sway him from his path. Oak leaves twined in the horse’s mane symbolize fortitude; the lizard slithering between its hind feet represents sin. The skull at the bottom left of the composition makes it clear what lies ahead for the knight, but with faith as his armor, he does not fear.
What common thread, if any, unites Dürer’s master prints is a matter of no small controversy among scholars. One theory has it that each represents one of the three modes of virtuous living; Knight Death and the Devil being the active, Saint Jerome in His Study the contemplative, and Melencholia I the intellectual.