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Melencolia II
Melencolia II
Digital_Cintiq 16_PhotoShop_Hard Pencil
Hardcopy size: about 22" x 30"

Albrecht Durer's awesome and famous print "Melencolia I" inspired my drawing "Melencolia II." Durer's print is about the four humors, but he singles one out in particular: Melancholy. Melancholy has two forms, positive and negative. Its positive form "Melencolia Candida Bilis" (White Bile Melancholy) causes brilliancy, which spurs artistic creation and positive development of the soul. The negative connotation "Melencolia Atra Billis" (Black Bile Melancholy) causes mania and depression. Durer's society thought both kinds of melancholy affected artists, architects, and artisans the most.

I think Durer intended to make a sequel print called "Melencolia II" but never got around to it. A banner, with the words "Melencolia I" written on it, runs across the sky of Durer's print. I think his banner would read simply as "Melencolia" and not "Melencolia I" if he had not intended to make a sequel print about the same theme, which presumably he would have entitled "Melencolia II." A half-made stringed instrument along the bottom center edge of "Melencolia I"--a lute--suggests that he had more work to do on the subject of melancholy than his one print could address.

Durer wrote in his papers a quote from Ficino's "De vita libri tres," "Three Books on Life" or "On the Threefold Life." It says: "A boy who practices painting too much may be overcome by melancholy. He should learn to play stringed instruments and thus be distracted to cheer his blood."

The importance of Ficino's quote to Durer is quite clear, and it's extremely significant to me, too. It's not only further evidence of Durer's intention to make another print on the same subject, but it also seems to apply to me. I read this quote for the first time about a month after I finished this drawing--and well after I started playing the banjo 9 years ago. Again, "Synchronicity!" As with "Foam!" (For more information see my commentary about "Foam.") Playing this wonderful, stringed instrument has helped me through a lot of tough times--Melencolia Atra Billis leading to Melencolia Candida Billis. AND has inspired an ongoing series of paintings and drawings about the banjo and Old Time music-- again, Melencolia Candida Billis. So, you can imagine just how eerie it was for me to encounter this quote. What a coincidence! Or may be it isn't?! This possibility, that there are no such things as coincidences, gives me goosebumps!

Did Durer play stringed instruments to help him get through his bitter fits of melancholy? If so, did playing stringed instruments inspire his "Melencolia I?" Did he have fits of melancholy in the first place?

Durer's angel in "Melencolia I" is heavily clothed; her garments weigh her down and imprison her. Her closed wings encroach upon her, adding to her earthbound, leaden state. Her facial expression is brooding. If she could finish making her lute and then play it, this would probably lift her spirits--Melencolia Atra Billis. By contrast, my angel in "Melencolia II" unshackles her soul and spirit by shedding her leaden garments and glorying in her nakedness. Her wings are fully spread, poised to take off and fly. She has made many stringed instruments. She sets them aside for a moment to reflect upon her new and glorious state. Behind her the glowing sun and bright sea echo her new state of being--Melencolia Candida Billis!