Art lovers flock to Berlin 'Melancholy' exhibition
By Clive Freeman Apr 20, 2006, 15:47 GMT
Berlin - No other country in the world has become so linked with being 'melancholy,' through its literature, art and philosophy, than Germany has in the past 400 years. Blame Albrecht Duerer.
The Nuremberg artist's powerful images, engravings and woodcuts had a huge influence in the art of the 16th century - especially in the Romantic period following the Enlightenment.
It is above all his magnificent masterpieces that lie at the heart of a 'Melancholy, Genius and Insanity in Art' exhibition currently being staged at Berlin's New National Gallery in the Tiergarten.
Since its opening February 17, nearly 200,000 visitors have lined up patiently for hours, eager to glimpse the rich assemblage of works by such icons as Peter Breughel, Edward Hopper, Caspar David Friedrich and of course Duerer - which grapples with the baffling elements of melancholy, intellectual brooding and creative despair.
'The exhibition has aroused tremendous attention, not only from art lovers in the capital, but also from people in many other parts of the country, and abroad,' said one excited gallery official Tuesday. Now the organisers have extended the show's opening hours.
'Melancholy characterises those with a superb sense of the sublime,' wrote German philosopher Immanual Kant in his 'Observations on the feelings of the Beautiful and Sublime' in 1764.
According to his definition, sublime feelings arouse 'both enjoyment and dread.' Another famous German writer Heinrich Heine would also take up the theme later in his famous 'Die Lorelei' poem.
'I do not know what haunts me, what saddened my mind all day,' he wrote.
Celebrated American painter Edward Hopper's late night bar paintings of isolated figures sitting in pools of light served as timely reminders that melancholy and feelings of loneliness were never confined to Europe alone.
As for Duerer, nobody ever managed to capture the boundless cosmos of melancholy more elegantly and deeply than he did.
In one of his greatest works, a man sits surrounded by measuring instruments and various tools, hand on cheek, puzzling over the array.
This is Albrecht Duerer's enigmatic genius in his 'Melencolia', who thirsts for knowledge and then is left estranged from mankind because of it.
Melancholy comes from the Ancient Greek melas (black) and chole (gall). It seems the Greeks were convinced it was bile in the body that produced the despair and depression that so often characterised the poets and artists of their time.
Historians claim that in medieval times scholars and artists formed 'melancholy clubs.' Certainly in 1621, the Briton Robert Burton wrote 'Anatomy of Melancholy,' the first systematic research into the phenomenon.
In Berlin, Angelica Rucker, a Berlin medical researcher who recently saw the exhibition, said: 'Melancholy is a sister of sadness. People are fascinated because they are able to associate with artists' illustrations of it over the centuries.'
Rucker, impressed also by the works of several German contemporary artists seen at the show - among them Sigmar Polke and Joerg Immendorf - whom the curators have tagged 'the new melancholics' - said: 'Their art endeavours by different means to illustrate modern- day intellectual feelings and trends.'
With the nation in a gloomy economic trough and hit by high levels of joblessness, it is hardly surprising a lot of young Germans can easily identify with the exhibition's more sombre works - or that depression is increasing among Germans under the age of 29.
The German media dwell on such issues, claiming these figures doubled in a 2005 survey, despite campaigns aimed at trying to get the nation back into a 'better mood.'© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur