Der Reuter wrongly known as Knight, Death , and the Devil


In PART I we described exactly what was in the print, which we repeat here:

Let’s look at the symbols that are actually in this print.


  1. In the center is a mercenary knight (which we know from his armor) on top of a horse in the woods.  The figure of the knight is flat and sideways as is the horse.  The art historians have already determined that the knight was traced from a workshop drawing Dürer had in his inventory.  The armor is correct and unremarkable, meaning that there is nothing unusual about the armor depicted-it is accurate.
  2. The horse is rigged up with normal riding tack for the period.  There is nothing unusual about the riding gear. There are oak leaf clusters in the top of the bridle and tied into the top of the tail of the horse.  This was the standard German way of indicating that the hunt was successful-tying oak leaf clusters to the head and tail of the horse.
  3. The Knight holds a long lance with the pelt of some unidentified animal over his right shoulder.  Again, there is nothing unusual about this depiction.
  4. Dürer has used a tablet for his monogram and date in the lower left corner.  The tablet says “S 1513.” The date is accurate, the meaning of the “S” is unknown but speculated to stand for the Latin word Salus or Salutis –which means salutation. Dürer has monogrammed the print.  The tablet rests against a dead tree stump with a skull resting on the tree stump.
  5. The landscape background is unremarkable. It depicts that the Knight is in the woods, with many dead trees represented.  There is castle or fortress in the background.
  6. Underneath the Knight is his faithful hunting dog depicted in a sideways manner-again indicating that it was probably traced.  This dog is NOT a hunting dog used by nobility, such as a greyhound, nor is this dog similar to other dogs Dürer included in other prints.  It’s a regular hunting dog.
  7. We now come to the interesting unusual symbols in the prints.  First, directly under the back end of the Knight’s horse and dog is a horned lizard pointing to the right while the rider, horse and dog are moving to the left.  It is very strange for a horned lizard to be depicted in a forest.
  8. The figure normally considered “Death” which is riding the horse who’s head is lowered is directly behind the Knight and covered up by the Knight’s horse.  The Devil is intimately connected with the Knight since the Devil’s face is directly looking at the Knight.
  9. The following are the salient features of Death which are the encoded symbols which identify who this “Death” figure really represents:
    1. Death wears a crown
    2. Death is “noseless” while the rest of the body of the Death is intact
    3. Death has two slithery reptiles on its figure, which are different reptiles.  Around it’s neck is a reptile with a larger head than the one in the crown.  The neck reptile is a conger.  The reptile in the crown is an eel.
    4. Death prominently holds up an hourglass, which is not an ornamental hourglass as is the hourglass in Melencholia I.  The dial prominently features the time as registering the hour “5.”  For the hourglass to be registering an hour of 5, this proves that the print is representing a summertime period (July and/or August) for it would be impossible for an hourglass to register such a “time” if the season was different.  We will show that the “5” on the dial is actually representing the number “12,” which, along with the noseless feature, the eel, and the crown, identifies exactly who this figure is.  It is NOT Death per se, although the Knight would have considered this figure as “Death”, for  “Death” is the arch enemy of the Knight.


  1. This leaves us with the “Devil” at the hind end of the horse.  This figure has a single horn, two side curly horns under the ears, a prominent protuberance on it’s head, very porcine features, and carries a pike weapon.  It is significant that the Devil is placed at the horse’s butt end.  Once the Knight and Death are identified, there were only two other significant personages that the Devil could represent in the story.  The porcine features identify which of the two the Devil really represents.





Underneath the Rider is a Horned Toad and this marks the rider as Maximillian. We have seen in the Sea Monster, Dürer used another “toad” symbol, the tortoise shell (rot Kroete (kroete meaning toad in German) to symbolize Maximillian. Horned toads spit blood from their eyes. In Venice, the Italians called the German coupound from whence all the Germans conducted business, the Fondaccio de’ Tedeschi-the Counpoud of the Toads.


LOUIS XII-the DAUPHIN, Emperor Maximillian’s Enemy

Dürer’s title for this print was the Der Reuter, which means “the Rider.” However, it appears that sometime around 1867-1875, this composition was labeled with the title, Knight, Death, and the Devil, a name that has stuck ever since.

When we interpret this print using its real name, The Rider (a sole rider), we then realize that we are looking at an armored Rider of some social rank of at least a knight, but probably higher (because of the noseless figure), riding by a crowned noseless figure (a king), and a figure that looks like a pig with one horn holding a weapon of war.

The major clue in the print Dürer called Der Reuter, which is known today as Knight, Death and the Devil.   The figure wrongly identified as “Death” is holding up a very prominent hourglass with a sundial on top, which clearly indicates the number “5.”

How was time really “kept” in Nuremberg?  We have the regulations governing building workers in Nuremberg to tell us.  Time was calculated according to the “hours of the day” or the “hours of the night.” And these varied with seasons.

When the day was eight or nine hours long it was spring or fall, the “day”

started at 8 am. as we know time.  When the day was fourteen hours long, it was summer.

Thus in spring and fall, the hours of the “night” lasted 16  hours, and in summer, the hours of the “night” lasted 8 hours.  In winter, the opposite occurred.  The hours of the “night” started when the hours of the “day” were over.

In spring, a worker would “have their midday meal when the clock struck three (of the hours of the day, ie. 11 am,) and would return to work at “four” ( 12 noon) “until the  last hour of the day was over (spring, autumn hours-8 or 9 hours of the day).

When the hours of the day were fourteen in summer,  the worker had to be at work “when the clock strikes one (6 am our time), “ eat breakfast at three (8 am), return to work at four (9 am), take the midday meal at seven (noon) and return to work at eight (1pm), have Vespers at 10 (3 pm), return to work at 11 (4 pm), and leave work when the clock strikes one of the night (7 pm).


the hourglass showing the “5” which is a 12

The hourglass and sundial in the print Der Reuter, the Rider clearly showing the number “5.”

So let’s take a closer look at Der Reuter (the Rider in German). The hourglass that the figure, with the missing nose and crown holds up very prominently clearly, depicts the number “5.”  What hour of the day is this on the sundial?

We have to know whether it’s winter, spring/autumn, or summer to be able to know.  Do we have any clues in the image to tell us?  Of course.  The foliage in bloom tells us it’s summer hours.

So what does a “5” on a sundial really mean?  First, this can’t be any “hour of the night” because that’s darkness and no image would land on a sundial.  So it’s “day” hours.


What hour of the “day” does a “5” represent?  We know from the documentation that  the 11th hour of the day was 4 pm.  So a “5” represented the TWELFTH hour of the day in summer!

Dürer is giving us a very important message that the figure holding the hourglass is actually connected with the number “12.”  The figure that is associated with a “12” at the time Dürer made this print was the Dauphin of France, Louis XII, with the eels slithering through his crown and a known symphilitic without a nose.  Dürer had already encoded messages about his predecessor, Charles VIII in the Sea Monster.


The figure with the hourglass, which actually signifies the 12th hour of the day, is coding for Louis XII (12th) the Duaphinof France succeeding his brother Charles VIII.


The eels and the conger

The Crown:  Death wears a crown; the person that this figure represents is a King. Louis XII.

The eels and conger in Death’s crown is a Dürer sarcasm regarding the heir presumptive of Louis XII and is Dürer’ methodology to insult Louis the XII.  The eels are referring to the intermarriages to the French hous of Angouleme (the houseof EELS)

(from wikipedias) Francis I was born at Cognac, Charente, the only son of Charles d’Angoulême (1459 – 1 January 1496), and of Louise of Savoy (September 11, 1476 – 22 September 1531). His father, Charles d’Angoulême, was the first cousin of King Louis XII. In 1498, the four-year-old Francis, already Count of Angoulême, was created Duke of Valois. He was the heir presumptive of Louis XII, who did not succeed in siring sons with any of his three wives. Young Francis was, by instigation of King Louis, in 1506 betrothed and on 18 May 1514 married, to Claude of France (1499-1524), the daughter of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany and heiress of Brittany. Because of the Salic Law that stated that women could not inherit the throne of France, the throne passed to Francis I at the death of Louis XII, as he was a male-line great-great-grandson of Charles V of France and the descendant of the eldest surviving male line of the Capetian Dynasty. Claude of France became queen consort.

Essentially by the having the eels crawl through Death’s crown, which is Louis XII, Dürer is indicating that the syphilitic Louis, who had married Maximillian’s stolen fiancée (Anne of Brittany) could not even father a legitimate child and the line passed onto Francis I.


There are two types of eels in the crown-a river eel and around the neck is a larger eel known as a conger The Conger is as frequently adopted as the eels of the rivers in heraldry. The head is perhaps more frequently found in heraldry than the whole fish, and also demi-congers.


Eels on tombstones
Eels on tombstones

Eel crest in Nuremberg



Painting made by Michael Wolgemut
Painting made by Michael Wolgemut


Picture of eels and lizards and horned toads from Michael Wolgemut’s painting in the Frauenkirke, Nuremberg, Germany


The “noseless” face:


How noses fell off on a syphilitic

One of the least known but most horrible effects of syphilis in it’s late stages was that the nose of the person rotted away.

Confusion about syphilis and its etiology was caused by the fact that many women seemed to become syphilitic without ever having had this primary sore; this of course was because it had developed in the interior of the vagina or on the cervix and thus was not noticed. Also many women in apparent good health with no signs of the disease bore children with the stigmata of congenital syphilis. It was argued that the child was directly infected by the paternal semen (rather than by the latent infection of the mother) and might indeed give the disease to a previously healthy mother. In fact syphilis which had been latent in the woman because of the immunological side-effects of pregnancy might manifest itself following the birth.

The second stage of the disease, which follows some weeks after the first, demonstrates its growing generalization throughout the system. There is an outbreak of rashes, which may take a variety of different forms, on the skin and lesions of mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, and anus. Glands throughout the body become enlarged and there can be feverishness. Aches, pains and headaches are also noticed. Irregular hair loss may be experienced. This is a disease, therefore, which is literally stigmatizing in that it produces a variety of visible effects which are not easy to conceal.

It had always been known that besides the initial chancre and this more virulent systemic secondary stage of infection, syphilis could cause longer term effects, most vividly with the spread of lesions and ulcers of the skin and mucous membranes, often extremely disfiguring. The formation of gummata, or rubbery tumours, in muscles and bones, were also recognised as a result of syphilis. These manifestations were described, somewhat ironically as ‘late benign syphilis’: while not malignant in the ways that cancerous tumours are these gummata had effects that were very far from benign. If they affected the bones and muscles of the limbs they caused characteristic changes in the way of walking and moving. Gummatous infiltration of the bones of the nose was responsible for one of the most horrible deformities caused by syphilis as the nose itself eroded and sometimes collapsed and ulceration spread to the face.


It is well known fact that Charles VIII, Dauphin had contracted syphilis sometime during his 1494-1495 Venetian Campaign.  Thus, Anne of Brittany his wife, had to be syphilitic also.  Upon Charles VIII’s death in 1498, when suddenly walking into a door jamb and dying of those injuries (Charles was probably suffering from the “insanity” symptoms of syphilis), Anne of Brittany was forced by law to marry his brother Louis XII.  Thus Anne would have spread the syphilis to Louis XII if Louis XII hadn’t acquired the disease on his own. The fact that the crowned figure is noseless but fully fleshed in all other respects was Dürer’s sarcastic identification of the known syphilitic French King, Louis XII.


Fat Henry the VIII


So that leaves us with the Devil to define.  Is this figure Henry VIII or King Ferdinand or the Pope?  The most likely figure would be Henry the VIII, since Henry the VIII was physically at Guinnegate and was the person who hired Maximillian as a mercenary, paying him 100/gulden a day, and rescuing him from humiliation by providing some troops for Maximillian to lead, which the Germans wouldn’t do.

We don’t have much symbolism regarding the devil.  He’s stands behind the horse’s ass-a rather blatant statement about what Dürer thought of Henry VIII for hiring Maximillian when the Germans wouldn’t even pay for Maximillian’s schemes anymore.

Secondly we have the fact that the devil has rather porcine (pig/boar features).  That’s because Henry VIII ate like a pig, had started growing and looking like a pig, and loved to eat pig.  The following was Henry VIII’s favorite foods-pig topped the list and indicated the extreme wealth of a person.  Henry VIII’s gluttony was legendary in Europe.


1. Spit-Roasted Meat

Spit-roasted meat — usually a pig or boar — was eaten at every meal. It was an expression of extreme wealth because only the rich could afford fresh meat year-round; only the very rich could afford to roast it, since this required much more fuel than boiling; and only the super wealthy could pay a “spit boy” to turn the spit all day. In a typical year, the royal kitchen served 1,240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs, and 53 wild boar. That’s more than 14,000 large animals, meaning each member of the court was consuming about 23 animals every year.

2. Grilled Beavers’ Tails

These tasty morsels were particularly popular on Fridays, when according to Christian tradition, it was forbidden to eat meat. Rather conveniently, medieval people classified beavers as fish.

3. Whale Meat

Another popular dish for Fridays, whale meat was fairly common and cheap, due to the plentiful supply of whales in the North Sea, each of which could feed hundreds of people. It was typically served boiled or very well roasted.

4. Whole Roasted Peacock

This delicacy was served dressed in its own iridescent blue feathers (which were plucked, then replaced after the bird had been cooked), with its beak gilded in gold leaf.

5. Internal Organs

If you’re squeamish, stop reading now. Medieval cooks didn’t believe in wasting any part of an animal, and in fact, internal organs were often regarded as delicacies. Beef lungs, spleen, and even udders were considered fit for a king and were usually preserved in brine or vinegar.

6. Black Pudding

Another popular dish — still served in parts of England — was black pudding. This sausage is made by filling a length of pig’s intestine with the animal’s boiled, congealed blood.

7. Boar’s Head

A boar’s head, garnished with bay and rosemary, served as the centerpiece of Christmas feasts. It certainly outdoes a floral display.

8. Roasted Swan

Roasted swan was another treat reserved for special occasions, largely because swans were regarded as too noble and dignified for everyday consumption. The bird was often presented to the table with a gold crown upon its head. To this day, English law stipulates that all mute swans are owned by the Crown and may not be eaten without permission from the Queen.

9. Vegetables

Perhaps the only type of food Henry and his court didn’t consume to excess was vegetables, which were viewed as the food of the poor and made up less than 20 percent of the royal diet.

10. Marzipan

A paste made from ground almonds, sugar, and egg whites and flavored with cinnamon and pepper, marzipan was occasionally served at the end of a meal, although desserts weren’t common in England until the 18th century when incredibly elaborate sugar sculptures became popular among the aristocracy.

11. Spiced Fruitcake

The exception to the no dessert rule was during the Twelfth Night banquet on January 6, when a special spiced fruitcake containing a dried pea (or bean) was served. Whoever found the pea would be king or queen of the pea (or bean) and was treated as a guest of honor for the remainder of the evening.

12. Wine and Ale

All this food was washed down with enormous quantities of wine and ale. Historians estimate that 600,000 gallons of ale (enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool) and around 75,000 gallons of wine (enough to fill 1,500 bathtubs) were drunk every year at Hampton Court Palace.

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