Artworks and Artists
Melancholia

Melancholia,
1514
Dürer, Albrecht
engraving on laid paper
24.2 x 19 cm; image: 23.9 x 18.6 cm

Theme:

In 1531 a German scholar, Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, published a book which further explored Aristotle's? theory that all gifted individuals such as poets or philosophers were melancholic by nature. Agrippa theorized that there were not two levels of melancholy but three; the third being imagination. His theory indicated that when the soul was concentrated at the highest level it could attain knowledge of things divine, when the soul was concentrated at the level of reason it could achieve knowledge of human and natural affairs, and at the lowest level the soul could achieve "wonderful instruction in the manual arts", or imagination. This theory supported Dürer's notion that the status of the artist should be raised from that of mere craftsman to one that is equal to the other branches of the humanities such as philosophy. Though Agrippa's book was published following the creation of this print his ideas circulated among German humanists after 1510, and were thought to have directly inspired Dürer.