Melancholy I (1514) by Albrecht Durer

Melancholy I - Albrecht Durer - 1514

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Artwork Information

TitleMelancholy I
ArtistAlbrecht Durer
Dimensions18.8 x 24 cm
Art MovementNorthern Renaissance
Current LocationKupferstichkabinett Berlin, Berlin, Germany

About Melancholy I

“Melancholy I” is an engraving created by the artist Albrecht Dürer in 1514. It is a work associated with the Northern Renaissance art movement and is notable for its fine detail and allegorical content. The artwork measures 18.8 x 24 cm and is currently housed in the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin in Germany. Its genre is allegorical painting, although technically it is an engraving, a common medium of the time for detailed, intricate works.

The artwork itself is rich in symbolic elements and has been the subject of much interpretation. In the center, we see a winged figure that represents Melancholia, sitting in a contemplative or despondent pose with her head resting on her hand. This pose has traditionally been associated with thinkers and is known as the “melancholic” pose. The figure is surrounded by tools and objects that represent various elements of science and art, including a globe, tools for measuring, a polyhedron, and an hourglass, each symbolizing different facets of human endeavor and the passing of time.

The magic square at the top right contains numbers that add up to 34 in any direction, and the ladder in the background reaching into the sky suggests a connection between the earthly and the celestial, or the pursuit of knowledge. A sleeping dog is depicted at the figure’s feet, contrasting the active mind with inactivity or idleness, potentially underlining the paradoxes inherent in the creative process. The bright comet and tranquil sea visible in the background add to the array of contrasting elements throughout the engraving, inviting viewers to ponder the nature of human creativity and its relationship to the divine or the cosmos. The complexity and depth of “Melancholy I” continue to fascinate and puzzle art historians and enthusiasts alike.

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