Theses Doctoral

Melancholy Figures: From Bosch to Titian

Hetherington, Anna Ratner

My project examines the pictorial and theoretical dimensions of the concept of melancholy as they were understood, expressed, and, most importantly, figured by Renaissance artists. By focusing on the figural pose traditionally associated with the melancholic state and humor, it presents a hitherto unexplored connection between Northern and Southern Europe, considering the different ways in which artists self-identified as melancholics and expressed this understanding in their art. In both Italy and the North, the basic figural structure is appropriated for somewhat different ends. The relationship of the isolated figure to its cultural context varies, either declaring a special creative status, responsive to a higher inspiration, or setting the figure apart as an outsider with special insight into the follies of this lower world. Chapter One serves as an introduction to the pose of melancholy, its historical weight and the visual meaning carried by the isolated, brooding figure, generally wth lowered head supported by a hand and often with legs crossed. This is the figure epitomized in Dürer's Melancolia I. Chapter Two considers Michelangelo as the exemplar of a melancholic and addresses the cultural and personal identification of him as such. The relevance of the melancholy pose to the identification of the artist in sixteenth-century Italy is demonstrated by Raphael's depiction of the melancholy Heraclitus in The School of Athens, which I accept as portrait of Michelangelo; articulated in his poetry, the artist's self-identification as melancholic is visually declared in his Last Judgment. Chapter Three addresses the works of Hieronymus Bosch, in whose art the figure of melancholy runs as something of a leitmotif, although it has remained generally unobserved; the figure serves as a running comment on the thematic concerns of the paintings--such as The Garden of Earthly Delights and Death and the Miser--at once participant and outsider. Chapter Four explores the role of melancholics in specific paintings by Bruegel, especially The Triumph of Death, and the relationship between melancholics and fools in the artist's oeuvre. Chapter Five has at its focus Titian's Flaying of Marsyas and the artist's self-inclusion in the guise of the melancholy Midas. As a conclusion, this chapter reflects on the personal significance of melancholy for Renaissance artists.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Rosand, David
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 22, 2013