Symbolism of Albrecht Durer's "Master Engravings" Essay

1638 Words Oct 21st, 1999 7 Pages
Albrecht Durer completed the "Master Engravings" in the years 1513 and 1514. With these three engravings (Knight, Death, and Devil, St. Jerome in His Study, and Melencolia I) he reached the high point of his artistic expression and concentration. each print represents a different philosophical perspective on the "worlds" respectively of action, spirit, and intellect. Although Durer himself evidently did not think of the three as a set, He sometimes sold or gave St. Jerome and Melencolia I as a pair.

In the engraving, Knight, Death, and Devil, it appears that the hero (the Knight) is gaining a moral victory over death. (Fig. 1) The Knight has often been interpreted as Erasmus's sturdy Christian soldier who scoffs at death and the
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Instead of a sluggish housewife we have a superior being – superior, not only by virtue of her wings but also by virtue of her intelligence and imagination – surrounded by the tools and symbols of creative endeavor and scientific research. And here we perceive a second and more delicate thread of tradition that went into the fabric of Durer's composition.

In their interpretation of the ‘Melancolia' engraving, the two famous biographers of Durer, Thausing (1876) and Springer (1892), both deviate from a firm basis of historical formulation and interpretation imbued with colorless modern spirituality. Thausing has no doubts whatsoever that the woman sunk in gloomy meditation is human reason, in despair because she has reached the limit of achievement! She is the restless, dissatisfied spirit who brings Faust to the point of confessing that we know nothing. Springer, too, is satisfied with the explanation that intellectual striving consumes the peace of the soul and results in deep depression.

The critic, Paul Weber thought the ‘Melancolia' is grieved because the old theology is still making brutal use of its power, but the visible reason of her grief is that all the arts and accomplishments have failed to satisfy her and bring her happiness. This can only be achieved through faith. The value of Weber's contribution to the study of Durer does not lie in the interpretation of the figure of ‘Melancolia', but in

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