Melancholy and creation

Experiencing inner torment, generated by doubt, by means of furor melancholicus
Loretta Secchi

In their iconic book Saturn and Melancholy, Saxl, Klibansky, and Panofsky develop the subject of melancholy by probing its countless interpretations. The investigation covers the definition of survival of the Aristotelian concept of melancholy in medieval thought as well as the reassessment of the principle of genius in the Renaissance, identifying the source from which Albrecht Dürer derived the iconographic contents of his celebrated etching Melencolia I, from 1514: the Occult philosophy of Agrippa von Nettesheim. The melancholic state corresponds to the obscure thought of Blackness, and involves the artist even more than the philosopher or the theologian, because the artist lives the phase of inner torment, generated by doubt, by means of furor melancholicus. From this anguish making it apparently inert, energy emerges as a power to balance “external” action exercised on matter and “internal” sublimation based on esoteric principles. The empty bag among the woman’s garments personifies Melancholy and alludes to the conquest of metaphysical gold: spiritual fullness that awaits realization by means of the four alchemic phases that lead the soul to pursue its work. The wings refer to awakening from the lethargy and heaviness of worldliness, and aid ascent just like the ladder that shows four of its seven rungs: four, for the visible, tangible, and three for the unknown space of the invisible, intangible.

Melencolia I - Albrecht Dürer 1514 etching, 23.9x18.9 cm., Staatliche Kunsthalle The four keys represent passages, possibilities to reach perfection, tools without which initiation is excluded. Likewise, the garland on the woman’s head, interpreted as a remedy against melancholy, if read in an alchemic context becomes a prelude to ascent, an allusion to the future crowning of the work and reference to reaching the light after blackness. The magic square, a palindrome, always leads to the number 34. Placed together again, three and four repropose the principles of alchemic numerology. The hourglass and scale, instruments for measurement, and the bell are located in the tower, a reference to the athanor, the furnace in which matter is sublimated. In Dürer’s etching, the bell alludes to a deadline, the scale is used by the alchemist to weight elements, the hourglass marks time and the steps of the alchemic process. The compass, the grinding wheel, and the sphere are symbols of circularity, because the aim of alchemy is to restore unity to the physical and partial world. The dog, curled up, could also be a reference to circularity according to the principle of the ouroboros, a symbol of circular time. The image evokes the alchemist’s path from the darkness of a face in shadow to the hoped-for light of revealing insight. Just like the bat that stands out against a dark sky, streaked by the sun’s rays, warm and dry: perhaps the alchemic sun that opposes the lunar principle of dampness and darkness. The irregular polyhedron, an imperfectly cut parallelepiped, emblem of squaring the circle and rhomboid that embodies descriptive geometry, stereography, and perspective, tools of the stone cutter approaching divine perfection, pertain to action that follows cogitation, emulating the principles of the supreme geometry, obstructed by tangible matter that responds asymmetrically to human action.

Likewise, the idea of the stone, the slow process preceding the work, refers to the Lapis, the philosopher’s stone, the end result, perfection that begins from the starting point of the work: the moment of melanosis or blackness, state of distress and oppression. The stripping of matter takes place through its martyrdom, the only way to free ideas and the soul from the weight of the world: through the rarefaction of materiality.




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"Beyond" thirty years