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"The Four Horsemen Of
Of the fifteen woodcuts in a series illustrating the Apocalypse by Dürer, this one of
"The Four Horsemen" is the most celebrated. It represents the vision
described by St. John in the sixth chapter of Revelation.
grandeur," writes Professor Thausing, "this design has never been
surpassed. What a vivid impression is produced upon the spectator of the
impetuosity of the rush forward, an impression which Dürer heightens in
a masterly way by showing only the forefronts of the horses. The riders
themselves, looking angrily forward, one drawing a bow, another
brandishing a sword, the third swinging a pair of scales behind him,
wear the fantastic dress of the day. The fourth horseman is Death, with
the infernal trident. The downtrodden figures in the foreground
represent "the fourth part of the earth," which is to be slain.
High Resolution Bible Art
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse 1497
Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528)
The genius of
Albrecht Dürer may hardly be reckoned without taking into account the place held
by the art of engraving in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. To
most critics it is probable that neither his paintings nor his drawings could by
themselves have won for Dürer the immense popularity and authority he has
enjoyed had he not been a master of "the most democratic of the arts," that of
Dürer had to struggle hard for a living. Painting not paying, he devoted himself
in the main to engraving and etching. Strange to say, into this bread-and-butter
work he put his best, with the result that "he is the greatest engraver that
ever lived," though his painting was much admired by no less a master than
Raphael. Camerarius, his intimate friend, writing, a short time after Dürer
died, says that, contrary to the prevailing impression, "he was not of a
melancholy severity nor of a repulsive gravity." His hand was so steady and his
touch so fine, we are told, that "one might have sworn that rule, square or
compass had been employed to draw lines which he, in fact, drew with the brush,
or very often with pencil or pen, unaided by artificial means, to the great
marvel of those who watched him."
In Dürer the desire to live was entirely absorbed in the desire to think. He was
not a man of action, and the records of his life are filled with accounts of
what he saw, what he thought, and what others thought of him; coupled with
frequent complaints of jealousies and lack of appreciation. "Dürer," says Furst,
"reflects the religious spirit of Protestantism. His ego looms large in his
consciousness, and it is the salvation of the soul rather than the
mere expansion of the mind that concerns him; but withal he is like Luther—a
His idea of art was that "it should be employed," to use his own words,
"in the service of the Church to set forth the sufferings of Christ and such
like subjects, and it should also be employed to preserve the features of men
after their death."
The very fact that Dürer's contemporaries were so loud in praise of the
extraordinary technical skill with which he could draw straight lines without
the aid of a ruler, or the astounding legerdemain with which he reproduced every
single hair in a curl, touches cerebral cords, rather than heart-strings.
Job and His Wife, 1504
Nevertheless, we have such pictures as
"The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" and "The Four Apostles", the greatness of which no one denies. Here the mind and hand of the artist were in accord.
The eminence of Albrecht Dürer is not only that of a creative artist, but he
was, as Cust says, one of the great pioneers of art. Before him, little or
nothing had been done north of the Alps to make art a factor in the popular
life; and now there is probably no branch of the fine arts which has not been
affected in one way or another by his works. He stands, as it were, on the
watershed between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, both in the advancement
of art and in the development of the human intellect.
Durer's last years were uneventful, and he seems to have been a good deal of an
invalid, but he wrote voluminously on artistic and scientific subjects. His last
and greatest work, "The Four Apostles," was painted in 1526. With this Dürer
seems to have felt that his labors as a painter were done, as during the next
year not even a drawing of importance came from his hand. He died on the sixth
of April, 1528.
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