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This painting refers to Parsifal’s defeat of the evil knight Ither, whose name appears beside his broken, blood-spattered sword. Parsifal’s mother, Herzelayde, had tried to raise her son in ignorance of the violent chivalry of his ancestors. Her efforts failed, however, and Parsifal, whose sword is depicted here as gleaming and intact, went on to become a knight. Kiefer may have seen a parallel between Parsifal’s peaceful upbringing and the attitude of the post-war generation in Germany, scarred by the brutality of their country’s recent history.

September 2004