DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)

Young Woman Attacked by Death; or, The Ravisher

c. 1494
Engraving, 114 x 102 mm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

In the middle of the picture, on a turf bench, a wild wood gnome is attacking a young woman who defends herself angrily. While the lean, bony man is reminiscent of depictions of Death, the dead tree to the left of the turf bench is a symbol of vice and fated undoing. The original intention was to include a commentary, as is shown by the empty inscription cartouche above the scene. The most obvious interpretation is that made by Panofsky, who considered the small genre picture to be an allegory of death.

This engraving is today generally accepted as being by Dürer, although it is reminiscent of the Housebook master in several respects. The thistle-like plant in the background, eryngium (sea holly), occurs in several of Dürer's early works. Its reputedly aphrodisiac qualities were, according to Pliny, known already to the ancient Greeks, and apparently fascinated the young Dürer.

Perhaps the print is related to a Nuremberg news item of the year 1489, when a man was hanged for a number of attacks on women.