Albrecht Dürer: Melencolia I (1514)

(Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA)

One of my favorite prints of Dürer. This print is a allegory but the exact meaning is unclear. It is the only print which has a title in the plate (upper left on the banner). Visible on the print are unused tools of geometry and architecture, a dog, a beacon (or comet), a rainbow in the sky, a despondent winged figure of genius, a purse and keys, an hourglass, a 'magic square (the 4x4 square on the wall with the numbers. A magic sqaure is an arrangement of distinct numbers where the numbers in each row, and in each column, and the numbers in the main and secondary diagonals, all add up to the same number. In this case the square is based upon the number 34 -  the square's four quadrants, corners and center also equal this number). Also present on the left is a truncated triangular trapezohedron (also known as a 'Dürer's solid'). This is polyhedron with 6 pentagon and 2 triangle faces. as i said, the exact meaning of this enigmatic print is unclear. It is suggested that the title 'Melencolia I' refers to the first of three types of melancholia as described by the German writer Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535). The first stage of melancholia is called 'Melencholia Imaginativa' which leads to 'melencholia rationalis' and that leads to 'melencholia mentalis'. Melencholia Imaginativa is a state in which 'imagination' predominates over 'mind' or 'reason', something which artists are subjected to. Engraving from 1514.