An Uncanny Melancholia: The Frame, the Gaze, and the Representation of Melancholia in Albrecht Dürer's Engraving Melencolia I

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Abstract

Albrecht Dürer's engraving Melencolia I gives its viewers a rare glimpse into the Medieval and Renaissance ”view” (psychological and aesthetic) of melancholia. Nevertheless the frame, which literally draws a line between the ”real world” and the engraving, is unable to hold firm due to the uncanny, penetrating gaze of Melencolia, the winged female melancholic figure. Hers are not the downcast eyes formerly attributed to the melancholic or child of Saturn; she gazes outward beyond the frame, staring into that unknowable outer space. This paper argues that Dürer's Melencolia I offers more than a medical, psychological or philosophical ”moral” (by characterizing the melancholic as a sick or insane person, or a person worn down by thinking about geometry and architecture). Rather, it presents a melancholic Faustian figure with an age-old craving for forbidden or ”uncanny” knowledge. Thus the primary focus here is on the uncanny nature of melancholia in Dürer's Melencolia I; also explored will be the question of ”the melancholy Other” and ”the ecstasy of the signs of melancholia. ”
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-175
Number of pages31
JournalConcentric
Volume33
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007

Fingerprint

outer space
human being
Renaissance
aesthetics
mathematics
firm
Engraving
Melancholia
Person
Psychological
Geometry
Viewer
Medieval Period
Aesthetics
Melancholy
Female Figures
Ecstasy
Real World

Keywords

  • Albrecht Dürer
  • Melencolia I
  • the uncanny
  • melancholia
  • gaze
  • representation

Cite this

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abstract = "Albrecht D{\"u}rer's engraving Melencolia I gives its viewers a rare glimpse into the Medieval and Renaissance ”view” (psychological and aesthetic) of melancholia. Nevertheless the frame, which literally draws a line between the ”real world” and the engraving, is unable to hold firm due to the uncanny, penetrating gaze of Melencolia, the winged female melancholic figure. Hers are not the downcast eyes formerly attributed to the melancholic or child of Saturn; she gazes outward beyond the frame, staring into that unknowable outer space. This paper argues that D{\"u}rer's Melencolia I offers more than a medical, psychological or philosophical ”moral” (by characterizing the melancholic as a sick or insane person, or a person worn down by thinking about geometry and architecture). Rather, it presents a melancholic Faustian figure with an age-old craving for forbidden or ”uncanny” knowledge. Thus the primary focus here is on the uncanny nature of melancholia in D{\"u}rer's Melencolia I; also explored will be the question of ”the melancholy Other” and ”the ecstasy of the signs of melancholia. ”",
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AB - Albrecht Dürer's engraving Melencolia I gives its viewers a rare glimpse into the Medieval and Renaissance ”view” (psychological and aesthetic) of melancholia. Nevertheless the frame, which literally draws a line between the ”real world” and the engraving, is unable to hold firm due to the uncanny, penetrating gaze of Melencolia, the winged female melancholic figure. Hers are not the downcast eyes formerly attributed to the melancholic or child of Saturn; she gazes outward beyond the frame, staring into that unknowable outer space. This paper argues that Dürer's Melencolia I offers more than a medical, psychological or philosophical ”moral” (by characterizing the melancholic as a sick or insane person, or a person worn down by thinking about geometry and architecture). Rather, it presents a melancholic Faustian figure with an age-old craving for forbidden or ”uncanny” knowledge. Thus the primary focus here is on the uncanny nature of melancholia in Dürer's Melencolia I; also explored will be the question of ”the melancholy Other” and ”the ecstasy of the signs of melancholia. ”

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