I have written before of my admiration for Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), probably Germany’s greatest artist. Now I am even more certain of my admiration, since I discovered that he is of Hungarian descent—his father was a goldsmith named Albrecht Ajtósi.
Slowly poring through Will Durant’s The Reformation: A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin 1300-1564, I hunted up Dürer’s engraving after reading what the author had to say about it:
Finally the engraving that Dürer entitled Melancholia I reveals an angel seated amid the chaos of an unfinished building, with a medley of tools and scientific instruments at her feet; a purse and keys attached to her girdle as emblems of wealth and power; her head resting pensively on one hand, her eyes gazing half in wonder, half in terror, about her. Is she asking to what end all this labor, this building and demolition and building, this pursuit of wealth and power and the mirage called truth, this glory of science and Babel of intellect vainly fighting inevitable death? Can it be that Dürer, at the very outset of the modern age, understood the problem faced by triumphant science, of progressive means abused by unchanging ends?
It is by far the greatest work of art on the theme of being stumped. I find it interesting that the angel is female, no doubt wondering what men have come up with this time.