Dürer’s often struggle with questioning themselves and their

Dürer’s Meisterstiche: Melancolia Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I is brimming with symbolism: the forlorn stare of the main figure Melancholia, sand flowing through the hourglass, emaciated canine companion, and the magic square (Plate 1). Art historians have discussed the Meisterstiche for many years but the focus is generally on the set of Meisterstiche as a whole, yet one may wonder- why did Dürer create Melancholia I specifically? There are innumerable answers to this question, as we cannot question Dürer himself on the matter. However, one common belief is that contemporary concepts of mathematics and geometry fascinated Dürer. The main sources of imagery used to support this thinking are images such as the magic square and the geometric stone. Another possibility is that Dürer was of the same mind as the growing Humanist movement that was so popular during the 15th and 16th centuries. The closed book under the main figure’s hand is considered a nod to Dürer’s humanist ideals. Although Dürer’s fondness of both mathematics and Humanism may have contributed to the conception of Melencolia I, there is another simple possibility- Dürer himself suffered from depression Dürer’s own struggle with depression could have been the primary inspiration for the theme of Melancholia I. Artists so often struggle with questioning themselves and their craft, thus leading to feelings of melancholy and boredom as their art, or in this case the dog, suffers. It would have been easy if Dürer was feeling this way himself to implant these ideas in the complex symbolism of the piece.   Dürer was born in Germany on May 21, 1471. He worked under his father as a goldsmith but was far more passionate about his pursuit of painting. In 1494, soon after getting married, Dürer traveled to Italy for a “bachelor’s journey” (Hutchison 42). It was while on this sojourn of sorts that Dürer was able to experience the art of the Italian Renaissance. Because of his fortunate timing, he avoided the plague that broke out in Nuremberg and returned safely home, ready to incorporate into his art everything he learned abroad. From that point, he rapidly became the most recognized German painter-engraver of his time (Hutchison 40-42). Although Dürer’s life began well, his return from Italy marked a turning point into frustrations that would last for the rest of his life. His marriage to Agnes Dürer was quite loveless and never produced children and in 1502, Albrecht the Elder, Dürer’s father, passed away. Anton Koberger, Dürer’s godfather, who was a strong influence in his early career, also died in 1513. Soon after, Dürer’s mother died as well. These events all lead up to Dürer’s creation of Melencolia I; And could anyone blame him for possibly depicting the strong sadness he felt at his overwhelming loss?  (Hutchison 121). A sketch from 1513 later titled “The Sick Dürer” was drafted the year before Dürer’s famous engraving. This sketch is crucial to a full understanding of the finished work and its relation to Dürer’s personal life (Plate 2). Historians believe “The Sick Dürer” is a sketch he drew to illustrate pain he was experiencing to his doctor. The work depicts the artist pointing to the area of his abdomen near his spleen, liver, and gall bladder, which was then colored yellow. A notation at the top of the page reads, “Where the yellow spot is and where the finger is pointing, that is where it hurts”, thus supporting the idea that this was sketched for a physician (Grass 67) What records that were recovered show that Dürer often complained of a swollen spleen, a fact which explains his pointing finger. In order to thoroughly understand melancholy’s connection to the spleen, or that general area of the body, it is necessary to think through melancholy as related to the “humors” of the body. Although the concept of the four humors dates back to the Greeks, it was at its height of medical popularity during the Renaissance. The core of this concepts originates with the idea of the four elements: fire, water, earth and air. It was thought that these elements then corresponded to the liquid humors of the body which included: blood, yellow bile, phlegm, and black bile. From there, it was thought that these liquids or an imbalance therein, determined the feelings of the individual. These temperaments included: sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic.Supposedly, an imbalance in these liquids could make a person feel specific feelings, making them react to stimuli in specific ways. It gave a physicality for the abstract that is the human psyche for physicians of the 16th century. This brings much greater significance to, what could otherwise be interpreted as a personal medical sketch. Dürer himself could have been concerned about the spleen area of his body, as his emotional pain was equated to the imbalance in that specific region.  These themes of humors related to the body, or various animals representing the temperaments they created, were also used as inspiration for works such as the 1504 work “Adam and Eve”. There are many popular conceptions which go into understanding Melencolia I, starting with the figure of Melancholia

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