The Coat of Arms with a Skull is Dürer's final and undoubtedly his greatest graphic essay on the theme of love, lust and death, a subject that preoccupied the artist from his first engraving, and to which he would return again and again throughout the early years of his career as a printmaker (see lots 1 and 24).
Dürer took traditional elements of heraldry; shield, helmet, wings, scrollwork and a wild man (wild men were at times depicted as bearers of armorial devices) and created a highly complex vanitas image. The wild man has all but abandoned his task of holding the shield and helmet and is fondling an elegant young woman who, by her festive dress and wedding crown, can be identified as a patrician Nuremberg lady. She does not seem to mind the advances of this bestial figure, and coquettishly glances at the shining helmet and the shield. Perhaps she is seduced by the armorial splendour and fails to see that the promise of this coat of arms is not glory, but death. The Coat of Arms with a Skull is however not simply a memento mori, but also a satire on the aristocratic pretensions and aspirations of the Nuremberg burghers. Last but not least it is also it a deliberate, and astonishing, display of virtuosity.