The Dark Side of Genius: The Melancholic Persona in Art, ca. 1500–1700

Paperback | February 17, 2015

byLaurinda S. Dixon

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In The Dark Side of Genius, Laurinda Dixon examines “melancholia” as a philosophical, medical, and social phenomenon in early modern art. Once considered to have a physical and psychic disorder, the melancholic combined positive aspects of genius and breeding with the negative qualities of depression and obsession. By focusing on four exemplary archetypes—the hermit, lover, scholar, and artist—this study reveals that, despite advances in art and science, the idea of the dispirited intellectual continues to function metaphorically as a locus for society’s fears and tensions.

The Dark Side of Genius uniquely identifies allusions to melancholia in works of art that have never before been interpreted in this way. It is also the first book to integrate visual imagery, music, and literature within the social contexts inhabited by the melancholic personality. By labeling themselves as melancholic, artists created and defined a new elite identity; their self-worth did not depend on noble blood or material wealth, but rather on talent and intellect. By manipulating stylistic elements and iconography, artists from Dürer to Rembrandt appealed to an early modern audience whose gaze was trained to discern the invisible internal self by means of external appearances and allusions. Today the melancholic persona, crafted in response to the alienating and depersonalizing forces of the modern world, persists as an embodiment of withdrawn, introverted genius.

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From the Publisher

In The Dark Side of Genius, Laurinda Dixon examines “melancholia” as a philosophical, medical, and social phenomenon in early modern art. Once considered to have a physical and psychic disorder, the melancholic combined positive aspects of genius and breeding with the negative qualities of depression and obsession. By focusing on four ...

Laurinda S. Dixon is Professor of Art History in the Department of Art and Music Histories at Syracuse University.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:264 pages, 10 × 9 × 0.68 inPublished:February 17, 2015Publisher:Penn State University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0271059362

ISBN - 13:9780271059365

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

Contents

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

Introduction: The Problem of Melancholia

1 Saturn’s Privileged Realm: Meaning and Melancholy

2 Privileged Piety: Religious Melancholy

3 Privileged Passion: Love Melancholy

4 Privileged Work: Scholarly Melancholy

5 A Privileged Profession: Artists and Melancholy

6 Wine, Women, and Song: Melancholy Mediated

Epilogue: Melancholia Denied and Revived

Appendix: Medical Dissertations on Melancholia and Related Subjects, ca. 1590–1750

Notes

Bibliography

Index

Editorial Reviews

“[The]Dark Side of Genius is essentially an art history, and is lavishly illustrated. . . . This is a coffee-table book and much more: a pleasure to own as a real book rather than as an e-book, as well as excellent in its scholarship and style. It brings us to a better understanding of the notion that, as Laurinda Dixon states in the final sentence, ‘to be accepted as a genius, one must look the part.’ . . . We are not surprised to find that the discourses of melancholy and genius had their own related visual codes in the early modern period, but what Dixon does so well is to bring a new depth and range to existing art-historical studies, the most important of which remains Saturn and Melancholy by Klibansky, Panofsky, and Saxl (1964).“. . . If one has an interest in early modern melancholy, one should buy this book, and not just for the illustrations. Dixon sheds new light on both familiar and unfamiliar images and texts, and in doing so has provided a thing of beauty for the modern researcher, unwittingly giving us a new treatment for our own ‘professorial melancholia.’”—Clark Lawlor, Bulletin of the History of Medicine