FETTI, Domenico
(b. ca. 1589, Roma, d. 1623, Venezia)


c. 1620
Oil on canvas, 168 x 128 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Melancholy quite literally means "black bile" indicating the origins of this concept based on the ancient theory of the four body fluids that were believed to determine an individual's temperament.

According to this theory, the emotions and personality traits could be explained by specific physical attributes and were associated with certain qualities: in this case all things dry, cold and heavy. Accordingly, melancholy is associated with the element of earth, the season of winter, the astronomical constellation of Saturn, the leaden star.

Fetti portrays all this in his painting: the head of the woman lies heavy in her hand, her flesh is heavy, her eyelids heavy. The setting is a gloomy landscape of ruins, with no green shoots of spring and without the fruits of summer. Brown tones dominate.

Yet the philosophical temperament of melancholy, rediscovered by the Neoplatonic philosophers in Florence, is already evident. The deep contemplation of the skull, the abandoned tools (plane, palette, brush and plaster model of a torso), the unused attributes of science (astrolabe, book and geometric theory) show that melancholy is not simply a creature helpless against fits of depression, but also a talented and knowing creature, whose inaction stems only from an awareness of insoluble problems.

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