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Albrecht Dürer

The Four Horsemen, from: The Apocalypse (B. 64; M., Holl. 167; S.M.S. 115)

Albrecht Dürer
The Four Horsemen, from: The Apocalypse (B. 64; M., Holl. 167; S.M.S. 115)
woodcut, circa 1497/98, watermark Imperial Orb (M. 53), a fine Meder b impression, before the German and Latin text editions of 1498, with the hairline crack to the ankle of the figure of Death just beginning to show, printing with great clarity and contrast, just a little dry in places, with 2-4 mm. margins on all sides, in excellent condition
B. 389 x 281 mm., S. 396 x 286 mm.
Heinrich Anton Cornill-d'Orville (1790-1875), Frankfurt/Main (L. 529); his sale, H. G. Gutekunst, Stuttgart, May 14-15, 1900.
With Colnaghi's, London (their stock no. C 14834 verso).
With Kennedy Galleries, New York (their stock no. a 69960 verso).
With Charles Sessler, Philadelphia.
Acquired by Lessing Julius Rosenwald (b. 1891), Philadelphia (L. 1760b), 1928.
Given to the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., in 1964 (acquisition no. 1964.8.1786), with their duplicate stamp, initialled and dated 31 III 09 in pencil.
Special notice
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Murray Macauley
Murray Macauley

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Lot Essay

'... and I looked, and beheld a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.' (Revelation 6.8)

The Four Horsemen is arguably the most dramatic and dynamic of all of Dürer's compositions. We see the four horsemen, one after the other, as they burst out of heaven and thunder over the earth. Death is the last to come, grinning triumphantly on his haggard old mare. The mouth of hell opens up below, devouring a 'lord of the earth' - perhaps a bishop or king. No-one is spared, women, men, clerics, monks and peasants all fall beneath their hoofs.

Everything conveys a sense of violence and rupture; the four riders are barely contained within the image as the right borderline cuts through an arrow, the horse's head and the peasant falling in the foreground. Panofsky observed that the three horses in the air are shown at different intervals of their galloping movement, thereby creating the impression of time and continuity, not unlike Eadweard Muybridge's photographic recordings of bodies in motion almost five hundred years later.

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