Albrecht Dürer
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Albrecht Dürer

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

Albrecht Dürer
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, from: The Apocalypse
(B. 64; M., Holl. 167; S.M.S. 115)
woodcut, circa 1497-98, watermark Imperial Orb (M. 53), a brilliant Meder b proof impression before the German and Latin text editions of 1498, printing with great contrasts and clarity, much relief showing verso, with 10-27 mm. margins, with the usual horizontal drying crease mostly visible verso, a small wormhole in the lower cloud at right, otherwise in excellent condition
B. 15¼ x 11 1/16 in. (388 x 280 mm.)
S. 16 7/8 x 12 in. (428 x 305 mm.)
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Richard Lloyd
Richard Lloyd

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 as they burst out of heaven, one after the other, 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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