Dürer’s Cain Killing Abel

This woodcut by Dürer is known as Cain Killing Abel even though there is no way to know whether the scene is biblical or not. It might just as well be an ordinary scene of murder.

For viewers who know that the principal figure must be an alter ego of the artist, the placement of the artist’s monogram behind the blade of his weapon is crucial. It suggests that the blade is significant to the print’s meaning, which it is. This, after all, is not just any weapon but the axe of a woodcutter, the tree added as supporting evidence. Thus, what we are seeing, is the creative struggle in Dürer’s mind as he imagines the engraving of his own woodcut, the actual work-in-process symbolized by the screaming victim. If the woodcut were complete, the victim would be dead.

See Cranach's Venus and Cupid

Captions for image(s) above:

Durer, Cain Killing Abel (1511) Woodcut engraving on paper.

Click image to enlarge.


Original Publication Date on EPPH: 20 Apr 2010. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.