Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Melancholy: examined, curated


Show I'd see: “Melancholy: Genius and Madness in Art” at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin.

"The Sacred Humour: One of the four Medieval humours of the body, along with blood, choler and phlegm, melancholy has long been associated with the artistic temperament and is thus... infused with the divine. Anatomized by artists ... the condition is fascinating because it teeters between madness and genius – or so a major show in Berlin contends." By Muriel Zagha in World of Interiors last month.

Ms. Zagha launches with bravada,
“Nowadays, melancholy has come to mean something rather lightweight, a sort of languid disaffection peculiar to slouching teenagers. But it wasn't always thus...”

“Melancholy is a particular way of looking at the world: through a glass darkly...Melancholy’s pedigree goes back to antiquity...
Melancholy may lead to acedia – spiritual apathy, today more often known as sloth...a pernicious numbness of the soul which the Devil loves because it prevents us from seeking God."


The 4 page-spread of the piece is a cabinet of melencholic curiosities. Pictured:
Dürer's bat, melancholy’s mascot: “the bat emerges at twilight, the time of day seen historically as the most propitious for melancholy.”

A suggestive portrait of Henry Percy. At first glance – a droopy youth on a lawn, head in hand and book beside. Closer: there's a balance hung in the trees behind him, on one end appears: a hornet's nest? and at its opposite: a feather, labeled: “tanti.” Text clears up enigma: “The feather represents sorrow on Nicholas Hilliard's portrait...The sphere is a glass sphere, shown to be – with the feather – in perfect balance. The latter representing sorrow, which, even when light, weighs as much as the sphere representing hope.”

Lucas Cranach the Elder's symbolic “Melancholia”, 1532. “An enigmatic allegory: a flash of scarlet, a portrait of a demon winged woman in a red dress peeling a branch of hazel with a knife while wearing what looks like Christ's crown of thorns, tipped at a blasphemously rakish angle.” (spooky done much better in the 16th cen.)

Also shown:
A Bezeor mounted on a Faberge worthy filigree of gold pomposity. (bezeor = “stony concretion found in animals' stomachs thought to be an antidote to black bile.”)
An exquisite, netsuke like skull, hinged to reveal a timepiece, “the ultimate memento mori”.

Melancholy illustrated by Caspar David Friedrich's Moonrise over the Sea (1822 – the whole mood of Denison’s winter tales), front page of Robert Burton's 1652 “The Anatomy of Melancholy.”

Fascinated with the show - here's to time spent contemplating the darker edges.

C (in an especially spring-y and un-spooky New York City)

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