Young Couple Threatened by Death, c. 1498
engraving on laid paper
19.9 x 12.4 cm; image: 19.6 x 12.1 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 6817)
A fashionably dressed urban couple takes a stroll in rolling countryside. The moment might be an idyllic genre scene but for the skeletal figure of Death lurking behind a tree with an hourglass on his head. In the allegorical tradition of the memento mori, the pair’s leisurely pleasure is contrasted with a reminder of the temporality of life. Despite its small size, the print was copied several times. That made by Israhel van Meckenem included his signature and the inscription, “For is it not always near evening? Death comes and brings evening”. Marcantonio Raimondi’s copy is reversed, but still bears Dürer’s monogram. In 1506 Dürer took legal action to prohibit Raimondi from continuing to copy his prints, the first recorded case of copyright infringement in the visual arts.