Here is Albrecht Durer’s personification of the melancholic temperament in his most famous print, Melencolia I, shows a gloomy, idle figure who sits under an hourglass, weighed down by her own thoughts and surrounded by the unused tools of creative endeavor and scientific research. Durer’s representation was based upon the belief current in Renaissance humanist circles that melancholy was associated not so much with depression and madness as with exceptional creativity. There has never been a greater or more influential representation of the melancholic, creative temperament in the history of European art.
It is said that Leonardo Da Vinci’s own depression problem inspired this painting, but the painting gains its timeless quality not only from depicting Da Vinci’s sad soul but everybody else’s. If you look closer, you will find many interesting things in this painting. For example, the magic square on the top right and the hidden visage imprinted on the stone in the middle left part of the painting. To be honest, this painting is so rich that you might figure out something new every time you look at it.
They usually refer to the winged person in the image as a she, but I love to think that this person is unisex for the representation of both male and female, maybe both in one person, but let’s not get too philosophical here. Why is he or she so depressed with all the tools lying around? The tools represent all the things that you need to achieve whatever you want to achieve in your life, but why is that never enough. If we but hold this thought for our modern times, we can easily tell that we do have much more than anybody would ever need to change the world, but why are these world changers vanishing into consumers day by day? Is it that when you have all that you need, you don’t have any more drive left to move forward? Or is it that you are just crazy about owning the proper tools but nothing more? Is it your obsession with possession? Have you ever met a person like that, or a more direct question is but just here, have you ever been like that? Have you been whining all around the place to all people you know about the very last thing you need before you can start your creation process, or in our case, writing process? I have been there myself, but now after having spent a lot of money on tools that are still sitting comfortably dusty on one of my shelves or hidden as a dark secret in one of my drawers, I know that all I need to start creating lies within me and nowhere else. In fact, I even tend to believe that denying yourself from some well-earned luxuries to remind you when writing was not a mere obsession, but an essential component of life itself.
Think about a person who is facing this problem and see how you can take it from there and go all the way to how this can affect his or her relationships, and eventually his or her work. What are you waiting for? Here is something to write about. All you need is an inch-long pencil and the back of some white space to write on any printed paper, or less dramatically, any word processor and 5-year old computer.
Then I have noticed another thing in this painting although it is closely related to the first point. Look at the vibes this man or woman is creating around in the painting. The little angel is gloomily doing all the work while the great angel is sitting around doing nothing but contemplating on a point, back in time, maybe, that he or she cannot get over. My question is this, do we have the right to neglect the effect we have on other people around us and concentrate only on how we feel as if we were the only ones living in this wide universe? On the other hand, do we really need to live up to other people’s expectations of us even if it means losing parts of who we are along the way? You can think about either way or both at the same time, and then you can ask yourselves if there should be a compromise between the two sides, what is the limit, and who gets to set it? Haven’t you been there when you started to give, but the person you were giving could never stop asking for more and depleting this giving gift you have or had?
C you approach this dilemma in a story or a poem or even a novel? If you can, what are you waiting for? There are tons of ideas and themes that can come out of this and all of which are closely related to our lives timelessly, just like Durer’s painting.
I like to go a little crazy in the way I look into paintings and try to see things other people may not see, or I may be wrong to see, but who cares as long as it stimulates some thought.
I might be crazy, but when I look at the center-left stone that is left uncut, I see a hidden visage in it. Try zooming out of the painting to see it. However, if you cannot see it, please just bear with me. Who is that woman on the stone? Is she the Mona Lisa? Take a look at the Mona Lisa painting and see the resemblance in the negative space. Have you seen it yet? Well, maybe I am crazy after all.
If you cannot see it yet, just imagine it is there and put this together with the fact that Durer depicted Da Vinci himself in this painting. Did he mean to show us that Da Vinci was bisexual? You can read about Da Vinci’s life, but nothing can tell you for sure about his sexuality. He was accused of sodomy a couple of times, but the case was dismissed because other important people were also indicated. All these can be only theories, but how about the theory that says the Mona Lisa herself is a self-portrait by Da Vinci? Well, if you look closely to the Mona Lisa, you can see she is not 100% a woman, but she is not 100% a man, either, yet she holds this magical look that is like Da Vinci’s masterpieces, distract you from anything else you might be able to see in the painting. Some tend to believe that the Mona Lisa was Leonardo’s male lover. In Durer’s painting, the she-like winged being might be a depiction of Da Vinci, and again you cannot really tell if it is a man or a woman. There was this horse Da Vinci kept talking about sculpting, but he kept postponing it, or avoiding it, perhaps, until he died without ever creating that horse. Was that horse the free spirit Da Vinci wanted to face the world with before he died? Was the Mona Lisa hidden visage on the stone a hint that he was finally going to reveal his sexuality to the whole world? Yet he died without daring to do it.
I know that you already started to judge for bringing that up in the wrong way, just wait because here is my real question. Whether all this analysis is the words of a madman (such as myself) or if you could see some sense in it, the real question is this, does it really matter if Da Vinci was homosexual or bisexual or whatever sexual you have words for? Where do you stand in this sensitive area most writers try to avoid? I will just remind you of two very famous homosexuals who died because they could not hide it well enough from their societies. I am referring to the famous composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and the famous inventor Allan Turing. You might want to read more about these two and find out how they ended after all that they have given to humanity. I am not standing on anybody’s side; all I am saying is that if you decided to take this dangerous path to write, try to think about more than one perspective whatever yours might be.
What Do You Do Now?
Now you hold your pen tightly and start to drip words out of it like poison from the very fangs of a snake, for words are always meant to bite, for better or worse.
You can write about the person drowned by his sadness and how that is affecting everything around him, you can write about the dilemma between caring only about ourselves and allowing other people’s needs from us to affect our lives, or you can touch upon that last sensitive sexual topic; if you take it from there, you can write a whole new conspiracy theory based on that perspective. Just write because life is worth writing for.