Dürer’s personification of the melancholic temperament in his most famous print, Melencolia I, shows a brooding, inactive figure who sits under an hourglass, weighed down by her own thoughts and surrounded by the unused tools of creative endeavour and scientific research. Dürer’s representation was based upon the belief current in Renaissance humanist circles that melancholy was associated not so much with depression and madness as with exceptional creativity. There has never been a greater or more influential representation of the melancholic, creative temperament in the history of European art.

This is the very rare first state, before the reversed ‘9’ in the grid was corrected.

Text © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia


  • Title: Melencolia I
  • Creator: Albrecht Dürer
  • Creator Lifespan: 21 May 1471 - 06 April 1528
  • Creator Nationality: German
  • Creator Death Place: Nuremberg, Germany
  • Creator Birth Place: Nuremberg, Germany
  • Date Created: 1514
  • Physical Dimensions: 23.9 x 18.7 cm (Image)
  • Type: Prints
  • Rights: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1956, © National Gallery of Victoria
  • External Link: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Medium: engraving
  • Provenance: Collection of Sir Thomas Barlow (1883–1964), Manchester; from whom purchased for the Felton Bequest, 1956
  • Edition/State: 1st state
  • Catalogue raisonné: Bartsch 74
  • Biography: Albrecht Dürer was one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, renowned for his exceptional artistic and intellectual abilities, and for his far-reaching influence upon contemporary, and successive, generations of artists. His life spanned late medieval, Renaissance and Reformation times, and the profound intellectual, religious and artistic changes that marked this period were reflected in his art and thinking. Dürer’s traditional medieval training was transformed by first-hand contact with the art of the Italian Renaissance, and he was responsible for introducing into Germany, through his art and theoretical writings, the forms and ideals of the new Italian art. While he was acclaimed as a painter, it was Dürer’s prints that secured his fame, and spread his stylistic, iconographic and technical innovations throughout Europe.
  • Additional information: The National Gallery of Victoria has an internationally acclaimed Dürer collection. Numbering some five hundred engravings, woodcuts, books and one drawing, the collection of prints is virtually complete, lacking only three engravings that are known solely in unique impressions. The core of the Gallery’s holdings is the Sir Thomas Barlow collection, acquired through the Felton Bequest in 1956, which is renowned for the outstanding quality of its impressions and for the rarities it contains.

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