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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Albert Dürer’s ‘Melancholia’
By Charles Blanc (1813–1882)
From ‘The Dutch School of Painters’

THE LOVE of the extravagant and fantastic observable in Dürer’s first pictures never abandoned him. He has probably expressed the inspiration of his own soul in the figure of Melancholy, who, seated on the sea-shore, seems trying to penetrate with her gaze into infinite space. For my part, I have this picture always before me. How could it be possible to forget an engraving of Dürer’s, even though seen but once? I can see her proud and noble head resting thoughtfully upon one hand, her long hair falling in disheveled tresses upon her shoulders; her folded wings emblematic of that impotent aspiration which directs her gaze towards heaven; a book, closed and useless as her wings, resting upon her knee. Nothing can be more gloomy, more penetrating, than the expression of this figure. From the peculiar folds of her dress, one would suppose she was enveloped in iron draperies. Near her is a sun-dial with a bell which marks the hours as they glide away. The sun is sinking beneath the ocean, and darkness will soon envelop the earth. Above hovers a strange-looking bat with spreading wings, and bearing a pennon on which is written the word “Melancholia.”  1
  All is symbolical in this composition, of which the sentiment is sublime. Melancholy holds in her right hand a pair of compasses and a circle, the emblem of that eternity in which her thoughts are lost. Various instruments appertaining to the arts and sciences lie scattered around her; after having made use of them, she has cast them aside and has fallen into a profound revery. As typical of the mistrust which has crept into her heart with avarice and doubt, a bunch of keys is suspended to her girdle; above her is an hour-glass, the emblem of her transitory existence. Nothing could be more admirable than the face of Melancholy, both in the severe beauty of her features and the depth of her gaze.  2
  Neither the sentiment of melancholy nor the word which expresses it had appeared in art before the time of Albert Dürer.  3

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