Featured Artifact:

Featured Artifact: "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" Woodcut by Albrecht Dürer

  • Post Date: 5/3/2019
  • Author: Maddi Boehm, Registration Student
  • Reading Time: 3 minute read

This woodcut print by Albrecht Dürer is a reproduction of an original image created in 1498. It depicts a scene from the Bible’s Book of Revelation in which the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—Death, Famine, War, and Pestilence—ride out on Judgment Day. The popularity of this subject derives from a widespread fear of the end of the world in the late fifteenth century, which gave rise to a new and intense religiosity. This print is a reproduction of an original image created in 1498.

The woodcut is an example of a printmaking technique called relief printing. A woodcut is created by carving out the negative space between the outlines of the image. The block is then inked and placed into a press with a sheet of paper over the design. The picture left behind is that of the inked, raised edges.

Dürer is notable for his involvement in the process of incising the carved block. The delicacy, fine linework and intricate designs had never before been seen in this medium. It is not definitively known whether he created his own blocks; it was a common practice to have an official engraver carve the block according to an artist’s sketch. Documentation written by Dürer, however, suggests that he may have engraved the blocks himself.

The popularity of woodcuts as an artistic medium in Europe rose along with the invention of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century. Woodcuts were used for book illustrations because woodcuts and movable type could be printed together. And while European art had been confined primarily to the collections of wealthy individuals and was mainly done on commission, woodcuts allowed artists to illustrate subjects of their choice, including popular images. This meant the art market was therefore no longer confined to the wealthy elite as the prices of prints became affordable for the lower and middle classes.

  • Woodcut against plain background.