This rare little woodcut, often overlooked in Dürer's printed oeuvre, is one of his most curious prints. It is unique in being the only woodcut in quarto format, and belongs to none of the other series or groups, either thematically or in terms of size. Panofsky suggested it might not be a single-leaf woodcut at all, but was designed as an illustration, perhaps to Dürer's own poem Von der bösen Welt ('About the evil world'). It is not widely known that Dürer wrote a considerable amount of poetry throughout his life. The obscurity in which it has long languished might be due in part to the fact that Dürer's talents were confined to the graphic and scientific arts.
Despite their being there is nothing in the image to place this print in a biblical context the interpretation of the subject has not been contested. An almost naked man is kneeling above another man, also naked, and holds him by the elbow to the ground. He has raised a hatchet above his head, ready to strike the coup de grâce. The wounded man, with a gash on his head, looks directly into his assailant's face, his mouth wide opened in a scream of horror and pain. With his entire, twisted, cramped body he tries to escape, but cannot.
Nowhere else has Dürer described violence with such rawness and brutality. The scholars who judged this woodcut as insignificant were mistaking simplicity for superficiality. It is precisely by removing everything except the act of murder that makes this print so shocking.