The Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand is a significant work by Albrecht Durer, a master of the Renaissance period. This artwork, created around 1496, is not an oil painting but a woodcut print, which showcases Durer’s exceptional skill in this medium. The piece illustrates the brutal and legendary martyrdom of ten thousand Christian soldiers on Mount Ararat. These soldiers, having converted to Christianity, faced the wrath of the Roman emperor who ordered their execution by the Persian king.
Durer’s depiction is vivid and detailed, capturing the various methods of torture and execution with a stark intensity. The Persian king is portrayed in the style of an Ottoman sultan, reflecting the contemporary European view of the ‘exotic’ East. The woodcut also features a self-portrait of Durer, marking his presence within the narrative of the scene.
This work was made during a time when Durer had already established a relationship with Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, who commissioned the piece. Frederick’s collection included relics from the massacre of the ten thousand martyrs, which likely influenced his choice of subject for Durer’s commission.
The Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand by Albrecht Durer is a testament to the artist’s ability to convey complex narratives and emotional depth through the woodcut technique. It remains a powerful representation of religious persecution and the steadfastness of faith amidst extreme adversity.