Melencolia I, 1514
Bequest of Belle da Costa Greene
Melencolia I is arguably the most famous and enigmatic print in the history of art. Melancholy, represented in the engraving as a woman, gained a positive interpretation thanks to such Italian Renaissance theorists as Marsilio Ficino, who linked it to artistic genius. Her imbalance of humors evident from her dejected demeanor, Melancholy appears to doubt the usefulness of mathematics in creating art. A plane, ruler, stone rhomboid, and compass lie abandoned as she gazes upward, hinting at Dürer's belief that geometry "may prove the truth of some things; but with respect to others we must resign ourselves to the opinion and judgment of men." In the lower right corner, the initial D circumscribed by an A signifies Dürer's ownership of this work.