From Illustrations to the Narrenschiff of Sebastian Brant, printed by Bergmann von Olpe, 1494. Reprinted in and courtesy of The Complete Woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer, ed. Willi Kurth (New York: Dover, 1963).

The Dürer Woodcut:

If we were to apply Freudian psychoanalysis to this woodcut, we might argue that the image represents two of the main forces driving psychic processes. On the one hand, the skeleton could be said to represent the death drive (correctly associated here with the animalistic by being seated on a donkey). The fact that the skeleton appears to be goading the donkey with his own bone literalizes the notion of "drive." And yet, the skeleton is facing in the wrong direction. The skeleton is thus connected, on the one hand, to the abject, to the anal side of the "ass" (thus conforming to Kristeva's understanding of how we react to the eruption of the real—death, shit, etc.—into our lives). On the other hand, the skeleton's backward orientation suggests each individual's desire to return to the quiescence of non-existence. He appears, that is, to be moving backwards rather than forward; similarly, the death drive could be said to drive us back to an earlier state of quiescence, which preceded life. The smith, by contrast, could be said to represent the super-ego, which continually seeks to police the ego and sublimate its desires. Freud suggests at one point that all of civilization could be called a "reaction-formation," an effort to counter—or at least defer—such destructive forces as the death drive. For this reason, it is appropriate that the smith is facing in the direction of the human dwelling and is actively domesticating the animalistic (the horseshoe). For another application of psychoanalysis, check out the following link:


Proper Citation of this Page:

Felluga, Dino. "The Dürer Woodcut: Psychoanalysis." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory.[date of last update, which you can find on the home page]. Purdue U. [date you accessed the site]. <>.










Visits to the site since July 17, 2002