Soldier's Manual

Posted: Mar 07, 2013 12:01 AM
Knight, Death and the Devil is considered Durer's master engraving, completed after two years in 1514.  The provocative image of the steadfast knight, looking straight ahead despite urgings from the Devil and intimidation from Death, strikes one immediately.  Since its creation, there have been a number of wide ranging opinions on its message.

I read someone thought the fox brush on the protagonist's lance made him a "sanctimonious hypocrite" instead of Defender of the Faith many others imagined. I must admit, I'm not sure how that conclusion was arrived since I could only find positive definitions and conclusions associated with fox brush, including it being a sign of chivalry.

I must say I was a little unnerved to also read that German art historian Wilhelm Waetzold in 1937 called the "Rider" a picture of victory and said heroic souls like Nietzsche and Adolph Hitler loved the engraving. I think it looks heroic as well and serves as a reminder to stay true to the task at hand no matter the distractions (of course it always helps to have a good dog with the same mentality). The picture reminds us of those that came before we, and what they did and endured to make this a better world.
One reviewer of the picture suggested it reflects the writings of Erasmus of Rotterdam Enchiridion Militis Christiani (The Manual of the Christian Solider) in which the castle is the citadel of God, the saving goal. The rider keeps the powerful horse in check, reflecting restraint of instincts and passions and self-mastery for facing Death with composure and turning his back on the Devil.


Albrecht Durer lived from 1471 to 1528 and is considered the genius of the German Renaissance.  He was a mathematician, painter, master engraver and goldsmith.  It's no wonder even the most famous Germans in history wanted to claim him as one of their own.  To this day, a lock of Durer's hair is on display at Vienna Academy.  He was considered the first international rock star of the art world.  His travels took him to Italy twice, the Netherlands and all parts of Germany in his quest for perfection. 

His father was a master goldsmith, whose life Durer described in his journal as hard working and a painstaking effort. It was also his approach to life including his hunt for a rumored secret system of ideal measurements and proportions. He would later author a book on drawing perfect human proportions. But, what most casual observers think of most with Durer are his self portraits.

Durer's self portraits not only exhibited his mastery of art (painted inverse while gazing into a mirror) but his outsized ego. Perhaps his most famous is the 1500 painting of his 29th birthday. In this portrait, chutzpah drips off his fur coat while his piercing gaze speaks to confidence. It is said Durer was the first German to write about himself. His entries in his journal boasted of lavish receptions and spreads placed in his honor during his travels. No current rapper has more swagger than this deeply talented artist that used his likeness like Jesus Christ. This brings us to the here and now.

There is an odd Narcissistic Syndrome going on in America.

It feels like while there is greater selfishness with respect for what people want from others, this is a nation of fading self-esteem. Our vanity doesn't come from our looks or our skills, but a sense of entitlement based on an ever-growing reservoir of self-pity. Horrors, real and imagined, lurk around each corner like Death and his hourglass. It just feels like the clock is ticking, and instead of facing the battle like a knight in shining armor, we're being ushered into dark corners and are told not to look, not to fight, and not to go into the woods. In the meantime, our would-be leaders are too self absorbed, visors always down, always spoiling for a fight ... with each other.

America could be that majestic horse in Durer's most famous engraving, but we need the kind of leader whose fox brushed lance is a sign of chivalry and not sanctimonious hypocrisy. But mostly Americans need the confidence of a narcissist to change our current path. Self loathing and self pity have taken away our confidence, making us easy prey for in-fighting and handouts.

The "Rider" is a heroic piece that should inspire any person in any part of the world.

Swagger aside, Durer's drive for perfection should also be a universal inspiration.

Today's Session

I battled so many non-believers yesterday and felt like a medieval knight myself. Yes, President Obama's policies are destructive to the economy, but the stock market reflects a global economy in which prosperity has never been this high before. In the meantime, the stock market used to be considered an arbitrageur of the future, a kind of Oracle that would forecast the next six months. That status lost a lot of luster when the last high came a month before the Great Recession began, but maybe that's the role it's playing again.

Keep in mind we are in the era of celebration of mediocrity, so better news that would have been inconsequential or even disappointing in the wake of past recessions could be a trigger of euphoria this time around. On that note, this morning's ADP report came in better than expected. If the BLS number on Friday pierces 200,000, there could be pandemonium. Is this one of the messages of the market right now?