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The Art of Identification

Initial Impressions
Albrecht Dürer<br>German, 1471-1528<br><i>Knight, Death, and the Devil</i>, 1513<br>Engraving<br>Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br>Bequest of Herschel V. Jones
zoom Albrecht Dürer
German, 1471-1528
Knight, Death, and the Devil, 1513
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Bequest of Herschel V. Jones


Many artists sign their finished works with their full signature, but some use a design called a monogram, made from their initials. In a monogram, letters are combined in a unique way—often overlapping or intertwined—that identifies an artwork’s maker.

The German artist Albrecht Dürer formed his initials A and D into the most famous of all artists’ monograms. In the engraving Knight, Death, and the Devil, one of Dürer’s best-known works, his monogram is in the lower left corner on a plaque, along with the year, 1513. Dürer always placed the monogram carefully within his compositions. He used it so successfully and it became so widely recognized that other German artists followed suit and started using monograms on their own artwork.

Dürer was the first great artist in Europe to work mainly as a printmaker rather than a painter or sculptor. His technical skill was unmatched, and artists across Europe copied his prints. The Italian printmaker Marcantonio Raimondi made replicas that even included Dürer’s monogram. When Dürer found out, he went to Italy and took Marcantonio to court. Copying the images was judged legal, but reproducing the monogram was considered against the law.

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1. Dürer’s famous monogram is made up of his initials A and D. Click here to see a print of Dürer's coat of arms in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia.
2. Imitation is said to be the most sincere form of flattery. Albrecht Altdorfer’s monogram on this print is clearly an imitation of Dürer’s.
Albrecht Altdorfer, Christ Dying on the Cross, 16th century, woodcut, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of funds from Mrs. Franklin M. Crosby, Jr., and The William Hood Dunwoody Fund


November 2009