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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | September 19, 2021

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The Joy Of Melancholia

The Joy Of Melancholia

| On 06, Sep 2014

Melancholy is no reason to be sad in the new UQ Art Museum exhibition Five Centuries of Melancholia.

2014 sparks the 500th anniversary of Albrecht Dürer’s Melancolia I, and the continual representation of melancholy as subject matter in art ever since. In celebration of this the UQ Art Museum has created an exhibition focused around Dürer’s engraving, and the condition of melancholy as represented in figures, objects and landscapes. It is these aspects, as well as Dürer’s iconic work that make up the four rooms of the exhibition, curated by UQ Art History lecturer Andrea Bubenik.97848_WEB-GOYA-Sad-forebodings-of-what-is-going-to-happen_Single use, request permission

Dürer’s Melancolia I created in 1514 has become such an iconic work for several reasons. Its use of secular subject of melancholy, its medium of engraving and its mysterious subject matter are all aspects which make it such a fascinating piece of art. It is an enigma that just keeps growing, and is full of questions that no one will ever be able to definitively answer. Who exactly is the angel, or main figure in the work? What is the mystery behind the polyhedron and the possible face that can be seen in it? What is the meaning behind the magic square? It is questions like these that have led to elements of the engraving being enlarged for viewers to gaze at and read about, in order to gain more insight into the piece.

Although Dürer’s work does take up the first room of the exhibition, there is plenty more to see. The figures of melancholia inhabit the second room, where portraits cover the walls, with works ranging from old to new, and collectively giving a sense of isolation and self reflection. Objects of melancholia and sites of melancholia make up the third and fourth rooms, which both create a sense of darkness, but certainly not despair.97853_WEB-MOFFATT-Laudanum_Single use, request permission

What is so interesting about the exhibition, apart from the amazing array of international artists, is the message it conveys. Melancholy is portrayed not as a sickness, but as a state of being, and it is interesting to see how the connotations of melancholy, or depression, have changed over the centuries. Particularly in the sense that in the 21st century depression is seen as a condition to be cured, whereas in the time of Dürer, to cure melancholy would be to cure creativity, as all artists where seen to be afflicted by it in some way.

It is a fantastic, and diverse, exhibition with a lot to offer. For those interested in the theme of melancholy, Albrecht Dürer, or witnessing the progression of art in the last five centuries, then this is a must see.

The Details:

What: Five Centuries of Melancholia

Where: UQ Art Museum

When: 30 August- 30 November, 2014

How Much: Free

Website: Visit the UQ Art Museum website

Images by UQ Art Museum

Image credits:

Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) Melencolia I 1514

engraving on paper
image 23.8 x 18.6 cm
sheet 24.1 x 18.7 cm
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Morgan Thomas Bequest Fund 1962.

Francisco Goya (1746–1828) Tristes presentimientos de los que ha de acontecer (Sad forebodings of what is going to happen) 1810–1820

from ‘Los desastres de la guerra’ (‘The disasters of war’)
etching, engraving, drypoint and burnishing on paper

image 14.6 x 18.9 cm
sheet 24.0 x 34.0 cm
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. South Australian Government Grant 1965.

Tracey Moffatt (1960– ) Laudanum, #13 1998

toned photogravure print rag paper, edition of 60
image 36.8 x 37.4 cm
sheet 76.0 x 57.0 cm
Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.