‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil' (Psalm 23), could be a caption for this engraving. The horseman is the 'knight of Christ', a phrase that Dürer was to use of his contemporary Erasmus of Rotterdam, who had written a Handbook of the Christian Soldier in 1501. Death is at the horse's feet in the form of a skull, beside the plaque with Dürer's monogram. Death is also the ghastly corpse without nose or lips, who holds a hourglass up to the knight as a reminder that his time on earth is limited. The knight rides on, looking neither to the right, left, nor backwards, where the Devil, with an ingratiating grin, seems powerless while ignored. High above this dark forest rises a safe stronghold, apparently the destination of the knight's journey.
Dürer engraved three copper plates in 1513 and 1514 which have been called his Meisterstiche, or master prints, for their unequalled excellence. This print was the first, while St Jerome in his Study and Melancholia I followed in 1514. They share a similar size and format and an overall silvery tone with brilliant whites and blacks. Together the Meisterstiche represent Dürer's supreme achievement as an engraver.