Death and the Lansquenet

There is a great deal of difference between Dürer's woodcut Trinity and this work, even though the two works were created around the same time. The image is very simple in its execution, with no complicated devices employed, and is quite easy to decode. Works of this kind were aimed at a wide audience.

The picture shows Death — a skeleton holding an hourglass — grabbing the handsomely equipped soldier by the arm. They are standing in a graveyard with bones littering the ground and a stretcher for the dead (left) propped up against the graveyard wall. Below the picture is Dürer's own long rhyming poem in German. It is easy to understand, and the rhymes make it particularly suitable for reading aloud to those who were unable to read themselves. It relates the monologue spoken by Death to the solider under the headline:

No thing avails against an untimely death, so serve your God both early and late
(Keyn ding hilfft fur den zeytling todt / Darumb dienent got frrwe und spot)

Over the course of 76 stanzas the poem offers an in-depth, pointed exposition of the importance of being good and virtuous at all times and how you should never put off improving yoruself to tomorrow, for you never know when death may come, and your redemption hinges on your actions in life.

In visual terms, the image is highly effective: precise, sharp, simple, easily decoded and furthermore it is structured with a degree of sophistication that makes it visually energetic, crisp, and attractive. It is perfectly suited to communicating an important message in a manner that is easily understood by everyone, a claim that any advertising professional today would corroborate.

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Updated: 22.mar.2017
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