YOUNG COUPLE THREATENED BY DEATH (THE PROMENADE)

Albrecht Dürer
YOUNG COUPLE THREATENED BY DEATH (THE PROMENADE)
engraving
1498

An original Albrecht Dürer engraving.

1498

Original engraving printed in black ink on laid paper

Signed in the plate with the artist’s monogram lower center.

A clear and sharp 16th century Meder “e” (of “k”) impression of the first state of two, with excellent contrasts throughout, printed prior to the appearance of the two long vertical lines in the triangular fold of the girl’s drapery and the long diagonal line towards her headdress.

Catalog: Strauss 20; Bartsch 94; Dodgson 9; Meder 83 i.e/ii; Panofsky 201; Hollstein 83; Schoch/Mende/Scherbaum 19.

The figure of Death does not necessarily indicate a warning to lovers, as this was not customary in the 15th century. Death was, however, frequently pictured as a reminder that life on earth should not be solely devoted to pleasure and luxury. The tall grass-like plant in the foreground may be allegorical, related to the quotation from Isaiah in the Basel Dance of Death that “all flesh is like hay and grass; grass dries up and flowers wilt.”
In 1943, Erwin Panofsky wrote of this engraving:
“The Promenade” . . . resumes the theme of Love and Death already treated in one of Dürer’s most impressive early drawings. But the moralistic contrast between thoughtless joie de vivre and the specter of destruction has given way to a softly elegiac feeling prophetic of the larger evocations of the “Tomb in Arcadia.” A pair of happy lovers has stopped on a stroll through blossoming country; the young man points out to the girl the beauty of the scenery, but both his gesture and the splendor of the sunlit landscape are belied by the tragic gravity of his eyes which rest upon the face of his companion with an expression not unlike that of Death in the Housebook Master’s unforgettable drypoint Death and the Youth. For, in contrast with the unsuspecting frolickers in the earlier drawing, the young lover has sensed the awful presence that lurks behind the tree, invisible to the eye but overshadowing the soul of man when he rejoices in an hour of bliss.

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