Coat of Arms with a Skull, 1503. Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528). Engraving; sheet: 22.2 x 15.9 cm (8 3/4 x 6 1/4 in.). The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund 1953.9
In this visual allegory, Dürer creatively entangled themes of love and death. The hairy wild man, a traditional medieval figure of virility, lust, and aggression, plays the role of lover to a maiden dressed in alluring clothing. The skull on the fanciful coat of arms is a bold reminder that vanity and illicit desire carry a mortal price.
In this creative and technically stunning engraving, Dürer once again confronts the theme of lovers and Death. In this instance, Death’s abstract presence is conjured on a shield that only the viewer can see while his bodily presence takes the form of the wildman, a traditional medieval figure of virility, lust, and aggression. He supports a fantastical coat of arms while simultaneously playing the part of lover to an unsuspecting maiden who wears fashionable clothing meant for a celebration. Dürer’s allusion to high society combined with the young woman’s illicit expectation of love presents an allegory for the dangers of vanity and lust, both of which have a mortal price.
Pierre Mariette, 1667, Paris (no date) Alfred Hubert, Paris (no date) Pierre Mariette (1634-1716), Paris, inscription (Lugt 1789), verso, lower right, in pen and brown ink. Alfred Hubert (died 1908), Paris, stamp (Lugt 130), verso, lower left, in black. John Charrington (born 1856), Shenley, England, stamp (Lugt 572), lower right, embossed. purchased from (William H. Schab) (no date)