Nemesis is Albrecht Dürer's second largest engraving, and together with Melencolia I and Knight, Death and Devil, one of his great allegorical prints. For a long time, the true subject of this print, generally called The Great Fortune or Fortuna, was the subject of speculation. Today, scholars agree that this must be the engraving Dürer referred to as Nemesis in the diary of his Netherlandish journey in 1521. The Greek goddess of Retribution, with wings and standing on a ball, glides majestically over an alpine landscape, which - depicted in tiny detail - lies far underneath. In her hands she holds a bridle and a cup, her instruments to punish and restrain the pride and reward the just. These attributes are mentioned only in the poem Manto by the Tuscan poet and humanist Angelo Poliziano (1454-1494), and it must have been through Willibald Pirckheimer that Dürer knew of this particular literary source.
All details of this print are depicted with the great realism: the bird's wings, the cup in the style of a Nuremberg silver goblet, the aerial view of the village of Klausen in the Eisack Valley, which Dürer saw and sketched on his way across the Alps. However, Dürer combined these elements in an image of fantastical - one is tempted to say 'surreal' - effect.
The Nemesis has been described as a classical, humanist version of the Apocalypse. In true Renaissance spirit, Dürer found very similar images for two seemingly opposed concepts; Greek mythology versus Christian revelation; Nemesis versus, for example, Saint Michael fighting the Dragon (M. 174; see lot 26). In a celestial realm angels and demons fight and divine powers rule, deciding on the fate of man, while far below lies quietly the earthly world, seemingly oblivious of these cosmic events.