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Albrecht Dürer 1471-1528
Melencolia I
Engraving, 1514
Founder's Bequest 1816

Dürer's winged figure of Melancholy amid a clutter of instruments and symbols is one of the most debated images in art history. Dürer's idea probably stemmed from Florentine Neo-Platonic thought, which asserted that the melancholic condition is an important part of intellectual creativity. German humanist thinkers recognised three hierarchical groups of melancholy, with the first (perhaps indicated by Dürer's title) including artists, in whom 'imagination' predominates over 'mind' or 'reason'. The dazzling differentiation of surface and form displays Dürer's virtuosity as an engraver, founded on his training as a goldsmith.


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