Melencolia I

Melancholia I is a large print full of complex symbolism. One of the four bodily humors in medieval thought, melancholy was associated with insanity as well as artistic prowess. In Dürer’s work on paper, instruments of geometry, an exacting branch of mathematics in which the artist excelled, surround a downtrodden winged personification of the humor, perhaps a visual reference by the master to his own inability to realize perfection in design. It’s likely that the “I” refers to the first of the three types of melancholia defined by the German humanist writer Cornelius Agrippa. In this type, Melencholia Imaginativa, which he held artists to be subject to, imagination predominates over mind or reason.


Albrecht Dürer was a German painter, printmaker and theorist from Nuremberg. His still-famous works include the Apocalypse woodcuts, Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513), Saint Jerome in his Study (1514) and Melencolia I (1514), which has been the subject of extensive analysis and interpretation.

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