DÜRER'S SYMBOLISM

Melencolia I
1514
Engraving


Figure of Melancholy: “Melancholic” is one of the four humors (see Adam and Eve). It was the least desirable humor because it was responsible for depression, apathy, and even insanity. The advantage of being melancholic, however, was that this humor tended to be associated with the most creative and intelligent individuals. It was believed that carpenters, mathematicians, artists, and grammarians all tended to be melancholic.

Hammer: Carpenter
Compass: Mathematician
Putto with notebook: Grammarian
Keys: Power
Purse: Wealth
Bell: Eternity
Bat: Darkness. Boiled bats were recommended by the ancients as a remedy for melancholy
Wreath: Made from a plant which was believed to be a cure for excessive melancholy
Comet: Sign of Saturn, the god affiliated with melancholy
Magic square: Orderliness of numbers, each line (horizontal, vertical, diagonal) adds up to 34. Thought to be a talisman to attract Jupiter (The god who could heal the effects of Saturn)
1514: The year of the death of Dürer’s mother. Also the date of this print

View: The Temptation of the Idler

Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia I, 1514. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

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