Harrowing of Hell


Albrecht Dürer ( German, 1471 - 1528 )

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General Description

Under the crumbling gate of hell, Jesus, crowned with light and dressed in sweeping robes, pulls up the condemned and grants them salvation. This apocryphal, or non-canonical, scene describes the events that occurred between Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. Adam and Eve, who exchange touching glances, are seen under the archway with Moses shown behind them. These three Old Testament figures were among those guided into heaven by Jesus.

To capture the terrors of hell, Albrecht Dürer incorporated two monsters: a wingless dragon climbing over the archway and pointing a menacing spear at Adam, and another emerging from behind the broken-down door. The threatening spikes, claws, teeth, and spear of the monsters are all prominently featured and are meant to instill fear into viewers; it is because of these kinds of details that Dürer became regarded as a master of the print medium.

Adapted from

  • Laura Sevelis, DMA label copy, March 2015.

  • Carl Wuellner, DMA label copy, December 2003.

Fun Facts

  • Greek mythology also describes a vicious guardian of the gates to the underworld, Cerberus. In Greek art and later classicist imagery, Cerberus appears as a multi-headed dog with snakes protruding from his body.

Web Resources

  • Inside Albrecht Dürer's Studio- Engraving
    Watch this demonstration and explanation of the engraving process created by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute for the exhibition, The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer (November 14, 2010- March 13, 2011).