In Dürer’s time, four “humors, ” or temperaments, were used to categorize human nature: choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine, and melancholic. Dürer’s Melancholia is not asleep or lazy, as in other depictions of Melancholia, but she is awake and absorbed in thought. The tools of scientific research and creativity that surround her bespeak Melancholia’s intelligence and imagination; the bat and the dog were traditionally associated with melancholy; and the comet and rainbow signify astronomy. The infant scribbling furiously on his slate conveys Practical Skill, which acts but cannot think, contrasting with Melancholia’s apparent inaction but silent genius.
Engraving on paper
Image: 9 3/8 x 7 3/8 in. (23.8 x 18.7 cm); plate: 9 ½ x 7 ½ in. (24.1 x 19.1 cm); sheet: 9 15/16 x 7 7/8 in. (25.2 x 20.0 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, William H. Conroy Memorial, 73.37