Anything painted directly, on the spot, always has a strength, a power, a lively touch that is lost in the studio. Your first impression is the right one. Stick to it and refuse to budge.
- Eugene Boudin
Nothing makes me so happy as to observe nature and to paint what I see.
- Henri Rousseau


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Durer’s Melencolia I

Posted by Charley Parker at 12:04 pm

Melelcolia I, Albrecht Durer
Meloncolia I, Albrecht Dürer.

One of the most iconic engravings by one of art’s great printmakers, Melelcolia (an archaic spelling of melancholia) is filled with symbols of alchemy and carpentry (architecture), along with various measuring tools, an hourglass, a polyhedron and a “magic square” — the rows of which add up to 34 in all directions.

The middle two numbers in the bottom row of the magic square are the date of the engraving, 1514. It has been pointed out that 34 is a number in the Fibonacci sequence (associated with the “golden section”).

The title’s “I”, as announced in the banner-like wings of a bat/rat/snake thing as it flies out of a burst of light under the arch of a rainbow, indicates that this may have been intended as the first of a series of representations of the “four temperaments”: melencolic, phlegmatic, choleric and sanguine.

If you dig, you will find many interpretations and discussions of this work, filled as it is with symbols and enigmas perhaps known only to Durer himself — like the vague skull or phantom face many see in the leading face of the polyhedron.

This example of the engraving, in its second state, is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Use the “Fullscreen” link below the image and then the zoom controls or download arrow. Spend some time with it; if nothing else it is beautifully drawn and rendered.

One of many possible interpretations suggests that the apparently brooding figure, accompanied by a cherub-like genius (in the ancient meaning of an attending spirit), might be a symbol of the artist.

Is there a relationship between the artist and the melancholic? Does art spring from a troubled mind? Must you “pay the dues to sing the blues”, as the song suggests? Maybe this is Durer’s meditation on those questions.

I think it’s interesting, however, to note that the face of the main figure, on close inspection, looks more pensive than what we usually think of as melancholy.

4 comments for Durer’s Melencolia I »

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  1. Comment by Dave Dube
    Saturday, February 23, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

    I’ve always been fascinated with him because, like all engravers, I know you have to start with creating the image in reverse. I notice at least one correction in the magic square, but everything else? He didn’t miss much, did he?

  2. Comment by 10nuts
    Sunday, February 24, 2013 @ 5:27 am

    I find a good explanation for what lies beneath that “agglomeration of objects,” linked with the condition of the German artist and perhaps the reason for his “melancholia” in Elie Faure:

  3. Comment by Aelle
    Sunday, February 24, 2013 @ 7:47 am

    The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein
    The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace London
    Friday, 02 November 2012 to Sunday, 14 April 2013
    Among the highlights are prints and drawings by Albrecht Dürer.

  4. Comment by carolina
    Monday, February 25, 2013 @ 5:26 am

    Great art. I wish to have one. The similar to this is located here. Not that close but surely deserve sharing here with you.

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