A Meditation on Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia in a Time of Pandemic

Paul Brutsche

Although this engraving by Albrecht Dürer is 500 years old (1514), it can reflect something that is also experienced in the current corona virus crisis. One could say that the Covid-19 disease forces us to a collective experience of melancholy. The psychological situation into which this has brought us, the challenges and practical measures that became necessary to cope with them collectively and individually, as well as their possible historical significance, seem to me to be expressed symbolically in this engraving.

A superficial certainty has been lost. Suddenly, insecurity and doubt have taken the place of previous security and confidence. The clarity of our familiar outward circumstances has given way to a complex reality of questions, doubts and longings. The world is no longer as tightly knit as it used to be. It is called into question. Suddenly, unpleasant questions arise about meaning, questions about what is important in life, what is ultimately important. When life is threatened and one is not quite sure whether one is caught up by the deadly virus or is spared, inner, existential questions open up. The world presents itself as a jumbled multitude of isolated things.  Suddenly any big picture is missing. That is why it is so strangely difficult to really concentrate in such a time.

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