A knight in armour on his magnificent charger makes his way through a rocky gorge. It is a hostile environment with barren, broken trees, thorny shrubs and a human skull placed on a tree stump, as if in warning. Two figures stand by the wayside, as if emerging from the rocks; King Death with snakes winding through his crown, astride an old mare, holding an hourglass; and a monstrous devil standing on his hoofs, holding a pike.
Countless attempts have been made to identify the central figure, which Dürer simply referred to as der Reuther ('the rider'). Suggestions have included emperor, pope, heretic, Germanic hero and local patrician. None of the potential candidates, either historical or mythological, have been substantiated. The knight as robber baron - a genuine threat in the days of Dürer - is also lacking visual evidence. The precursors of Dürer's rider are the two great equestrian statues of the Italian 15th century, Donatello's Gattamelata in Padua and Verrocchio's Colleoni in Venice, both of which Dürer had seen, and - much closer to home - the Rider of Bamberg Cathedral. Whatever his true identity, Dürer's rider is clearly cast in the heroic mould, a model of courage and moral strength, the Christian Knight, who does not fear Death or the Devil.