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The Melancholic Imagination



A Continuing Professional Development Seminar, being run in association with the exhibition Five Centuries of Melancholia.

Date: Saturday 30 August 2014
Time: 10.00am - 3.30pm
Venue: The University of Queensland Art Museum

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Seminar Convenors

Penny Boys, Andrea Bubenik, Peter Holbrook and Gillian Ridsdale

In association with the exhibition Five Centuries of Melancholia, please join us for a program of talks and readings that explore how melancholy has shaped the creative imagination from Dürer’s time to ours. What is melancholy, and how has this emotion been represented in visual art, music, film, theatre, and poetry? Is melancholy a private state of mind, or can the term be used more broadly, to indicate a mode of understanding, a way of structuring experience?

The year 2014 marks the 500th anniversary of Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melencolia 1. Curated by UQ art historian, Dr Andrea Bubenik, the exhibition Five Centuries of Melancholia takes its cue from the engraving in an exploration of five centuries of melancholy in art. From the Renaissance onward, melancholy has been invoked as a condition, perspective, or mood; melancholy has inhabited figures, objects and landscapes.

In addition to Dürer, the international artists include Francisco Goya, Fabien Mérelle, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, Jusepe Ribera, Odilon Redon and Bill Viola, along with contemporary Australian artists such as Rick Amor, Tony Clark, Destiny Deacon, Bill Henson and Tracey Moffatt. Artworks are drawn from national and state institutions, and regional, university and private collections.

This Continuing Professional Development (CPD) seminar provides an exciting opportunity to consider interdisciplinary connections and ideas that can be applied to senior high school teaching. It complements the focus in the new Australian curriculum The Arts on developing and enriching student
learning by providing professional development experiences that value ongoing professional renewal, reflective practice and support interdisciplinary exchange and collaboration.

We welcome participation from Visual Art, English, Music, Film and Media teachers and other high school disciplines. Attendance contributes towards the required 20 hours of Continuing Professional Development for teachers and certificates of participation will be provided. 


Melancholia from the Renaissance to Today
What did it mean to be a melancholic in the sixteenth century? How is this alike/different from the contemporary experience of melancholia? This talk will explore Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melencolia I (1514) – one of the most enigmatic and written about images in the history of art – and its reception with subsequent artists featured in the exhibition Five Centuries of Melancholia.
In examining the evolution of melancholia in the visual arts, we will see  that melancholia entails much more than ‘sadness’ or ‘depression’. In fact, Dürer and his contemporaries celebrated melancholia as a source of intellectual and artistic creativity. The persistence of the concept of melancholia from the Renaissance to today is due in part to this positive portrayal, as much as to the enigmatic qualities of Dürer’s astonishing engraving.

Dr Andrea Bubenik is a Lecturer in Art History in the School of English, Media Studies, and Art History at The University of Queensland, who specialises in Northern Renaissance Art, especially the art and science of Albrecht Dürer. She is an Associate Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (Europe 1100-1800), and the curator of the exhibition Five Centuries of Melancholia.

Being After Time: Melancholia and Contemporary Art
As both an aesthetic and a state of mind, melancholia remains an ongoing source of fascination for numerous contemporary artists across the globe. This talk considers some of the ways in which historical aspects of melancholia have been changed and adapted in their transition to a contemporary context. It pays particular attention to the idea of the melancholic as a figure ‘outside of time’, and will include reference to the works of several contemporary artists featured in the exhibition, such as Bill Henson, Tim Silver, and Bill Viola.

Dr Amelia Barikin is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of English, Media Studies, and Art History at The University of Queensland. Her research often focuses on the ways in which philosophies of time are represented and embodied in contemporary artistic practice. Recent publications include Parallel Presents: The Art of Pierre Huyghe (MIT Press, 2012), and the co-edited anthology Making Worlds: Art and Science Fiction (Surpllus, 2013).

Music and Melancholy from Dürer’s Time to the Present Day
Music has been closely associated with the projection of the gamut of emotions across a great variety of compositional styles and genres and, in particular, has been a conduit for the idea of melancholy. Such composers as Lasso, Dowland, and Schuetz have responded to this emotion, as have numerous modern composers. This presentation will examine techniques for aural identification and critical appraisal of musical melancholy, as well as focus on the cultural significance of this rich and various repertoire.

Dr Denis Collins is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Music at The University of Queensland. His principal interests are in the golden age of Renaissance polyphony, the music of J.S. Bach, and the history of counterpoint in all its manifestations in music over the last millennium.

Lucas Cranach’s Melancholy series and the Delusion of Witchcraft
Lucas Cranach, court painter to the Elector of Saxony from 1505, created a series of four paintings on the subject of melancholy between 1528 and 1533. Taking his cue from Dürer’s engraving Melencolia I, Cranach constructed his subject around a winged female figure and many of the objects found in Dürer’s work. But Cranach linked melancholy to the dark forces of witchcraft within the human psyche, by locating his scene within a rural environment of mountain crags and a thick cloud populated by a cavalcade of naked riders on wild beasts. The presentation will explore how associations with Germanic traditions of the Wild Ride and Furious Horde helped identify witches as agents of sexual aggression, inversion and moral disorder, and as products of imaginative phantasms and diabolical delusion.

Charles Zika is a Professorial Fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at The University of Melbourne and a Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (Europe 1100-1800). His interests lie in the intersection of religion, emotion, visual culture and print in early modern Europe. He is the author of The Appearance of Witchcraft: Print and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-Century Europe (Routledge, 2007), co-editor of a collection with Cathy Leahy and Jenny Spinks, related to a 2012 exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, The Four Horsemen: Apocalypse, Death & Disaster (NGV, 2012), and co-author with Margaret Manion of Celebrating Word and Image 1250-1600 (Fremantle, 2013).

Shakespeare and Melancholy
Shakespeare’s plays – comedies as well as the tragedies and histories – often invoke melancholy to create a mood significantly different from, and harder to define, than simple sadness: to be melancholy in Shakespeare is frequently to have access to feelings and intuitions that allow one to see the world, and one’s place within it, more pleasurably, richly, and sensitively than would otherwise be the case. This presentation will explore how melancholy operates as a subtle and shifting mood-tone within Shakespeare’s work by focussing on key moments from three texts: The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and Hamlet.

Peter Holbrook is Professor of Shakespeare and English Renaissance Literature at The University of Queensland, and Director of the UQ Node of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (Europe 1100-1800). He is the author of Shakespeare’s Individualism (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and Literature and Degree in Renaissance England: Nashe, Bourgeois Tragedy, Shakespeare (University of Delaware Press, 1994), and coeditor, with David Bevington, of The Politics of the Stuart Court Masque (Cambridge University Press, 1998). He has served on the Learning Area Reference Committee (English) for the Queensland Studies Authority.

“Melancholy marked him for her own”: Gray’s ‘Elegy’ and Graveyard Poetry
Graveyard poetry is a modern term usually associated with the eighteenth century taste for contemplations of the transience of life, the imminence of death, and (on some occasions) the consolations afforded by a Christian afterlife. Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751) is widely known as the apogee of this poetic mode, but also marks the end of graveyard poetry as a religious or devotional poetic tradition. This presentation will explore how the poem marks a shift from religious orthodoxy to a secular yearning for remembrance and the aesthetic pleasures of contemplative melancholy.

Dr Eric Parisot is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of English, Media Studies, and Art History at The University of Queensland. His research focuses on eighteenth-century literary responses to death (especially suicide), most recently culminating in his first book, Graveyard Poetry (Ashgate, 2013).

Melancholy and Poetic Form
This presentation will explore elegy as a literary genre, with a particular emphasis on twentieth-century examples of the form. Elegies – poems that mourn the dead – lend structure and coherence to the experience of melancholy. They are expressions of grief; yet they also give poetic form to grief, and, as such, work toward the overcoming of it. Elegies then raise questions about why we read and write poems at all. Works under consideration will include Milton’s Lycidas (1637) and W.H. Auden’s In Memory of W.B. Yeats (1939) and In Memory of Sigmund Freud (1940).

Xanthe Ashburner is in the final stages of a Master of Philosophy dissertation on modern American poetry, focusing on the work of A.R. Ammons. She works as a Research Assistant at The University of Queensland.

Presented in partnership with the UQ Node, ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (Europe 1100-1800), the exhibition Five Centuries of Melancholia, will be on show at UQ Art Museum from 30 August to 30 November. Find out more about the exhibition and view the full program of upcoming film screenings, panel discussions, lectures, and concerts at www.artmuseum.uq.edu.au.

Albrecht Dürer (Germany, 1471–1528) Melencolia I, 1514, Nuremberg, Germany
. Engraving on paper, 24.1 x 18.7 cm (plate & sheet) Morgan Thomas Bequest Fund 1962 Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.