Dürer’s Enigma

A Kabbalistic Revelation in Melencolia § I

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According to Panofsky’s widely-accepted theory, the subject of Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melencolia § I (1514) was intended as a feminine personification of the liberal art Geometry and the temperament Melancholy. However, we argue that this synthesized personification is a façade. The formulaic veneer was meant to camouflage a layer of meaning that was only accessible to those who were familiar with the writings of the Christian Kabbalists Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Johannes Reuchlin. The symbolism of Melencolia § I, like that of its counterpart engraving Saint Jerome in his Study (1514), was influenced by Dürer’s interest in Christian Hebraism. Our research findings show that this image can best be understood as a visual interpretation of Pico’s Humanist manifesto Oratio (1486). Viewed from this perspective the main character of Dürer’s Melencolia § I transcends the bounds of the personification of Melancholy perceived by Panofsky, and transforms into an important figure in Pico’s Oratio, the high angel of Jewish mysticism, Metatron.

Dürer’s Enigma

A Kabbalistic Revelation in Melencolia § I

in Aries



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  • View in gallery
    Figure 1

    Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia § I, engraving, 1514, 18.6 × 23.8 cm

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    Figure 2

    Albrecht Dürer, St Jerome in his Study, engraving, 1514, 24.7 cm × 18.8 cm

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    Figure 3

    Albrecht Dürer’s House, historical reconstruction, Nuremberg

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    Figure 4

    Albrecht Dürer, St. Jerome in His Study (Der heilige Hieronymus in der Studierstube), Epistolae Title page woodcut, Incunabulum print on paper, by Nikolaus Kessler, Basel, 8th August 1492, 19.2 × 13.5 cm (left), and detail (right)

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    Figure 5a

    Albrecht Dürer, Monogram of Christ, ca. 1500, print, 17.7 × 14.1 cm

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    Figure 5b

    Albrecht Dürer, Monogram of Christ (detail)

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    Figure 6

    Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia § I (detail), 1514

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    Figure 7

    Attributed to Hans Leonhard Schäufelein, Chameleon, Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum Libellus, First Edition, Augsburg: Steyner, 1534, 10.5 × 16.1 cm

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    Figure 8

    Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia § I (detail), 1514

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    Figure 9

    Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise, From The Small Passion, woodcut, 1510, 12.7 × 9.8 cm. Bequeathed by Eustace F. Bosanquet

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    Figure 10

    Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia § I (detail), 1514

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    Figure 11

    Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia § I (detail), 1514

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    Figure 12

    Illustration of Angelica (angelica archangelica), 1479

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    Figure 13

    A page from Pico della Mirandola, Oratio, Editio Princeps, 1496, § 1–5 (132r). Edited by Giovan Francesco Pico, Bologna: Benedetto Faelli, 1496

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    Figure 14

    Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia § I (detail), 1514

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    Figure 15

    Dürer solid’s projected ground plan diagram, designer Phillip Lee


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