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Hans Sebald Beham

(1500 Nuremberg - 1550 Frankfurt am Main)

Melencolia. Engraving. 7.9 x 5.1 cm. 1539. B. 144, Pauli 145, Hollstein 145 IV (of VI).

Hans Sebald Beham hailed from Nuremberg, where he studied under the influence of Dürer, as is immediately recognisable in Beham’s depiction of Melencolia. According to the ancient doctrine of the four temperaments or fundamental humours, which was further elaborated in the Middle Ages, black bile was predominant in the body of the melancholic who was subject to the special influence of the planet Saturn. Initially classified in ancient times as a disease, melancholy had been associated since Aristotle with genius and attributed to outstanding thinkers and artists, although the brilliant melancholic was also permanently at risk of falling ill. In the Middle Ages this pathological, paralysing element in the concept of the melancholic began to come to the fore, just as the negative connotations of the planet Saturn did. By contrast, Renaissance Neo-Platonists once again attributed the melancholic temperament and the influence of Saturn to the genius - in programmatic terms Marsilio Ficino, whose writings were widespread in Germany around 1500 and are considered a source of Dürer’s famous work of 1514. This is the source of Beham’s winged Melencolia, whose head rests on her hand in an ancient gesture of contemplation. The compass, globe, chisel, saw, sandglass and book taken over from Dürer’s work are interpreted as attributes of Saturn’s children and as references to activities of pure and applied geometry as well as to certain craft professions and erudition. A very fine, even impression with the date, before further revisions and cross hatchings, with thread margins around the distinct platemark. Minor staining and a tiny trace of old hinging tape verso, otherwise a perfect impression in impeccable condition.

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