The enigmatic nature of Dürer’s prints—as seen in such works as Knight, Death, and the Devil; Melencolia I; The Desperate Man; and his knot series—has encouraged a wide range of interpretive analysis over the centuries. Recent scholarship has incorporated references to philosophy, popular culture, literature, religious doctrine, and feminism in an attempt to fasten meaning on these curious images. The search for disguised symbolism has been one of the most common methods used to unlock elements in Dürer’s compositions, but this approach has its limitations. Whether a monkey symbolizes base passion or a dog suggests faithful devotion depends on the questions we bring to them. Dürer’s vast imagination allows each successive generation to interpret these works anew.

Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia I, 1514. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

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