The Artists in the Melencolia Catalogue. Iris Bodemer, Gigi Mariani, Yoko Takirai and Pietro Pellitteri

Published: 08.11.2022
Nichka Marobin
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Amidst this opacity, one sometimes gets lost in the forest of interpretations; in the middle of the fog of all the historical and philosophical evidence, the bewilderment of beauty and the fascination this engraving casts are still just breathtaking. Despite all that, there is a subtle thread -made precisely of gold- that gathers all the artists involved in this journey. From Albrecht Dürer to the living ones, this gold thread reunites, fuses, and transforms not only the world of Renaissance and the one of contemporary jewellery, but also all the worlds belonging to each participant of this exhibition project
In her introductory text to the book dedicated to Iris Bodemer, Marjan Unger writes: “Anyone writing about jewellery has to be aware of at least two things. Firstly, language and images are two means for conveying experience and can both be precise and abstract so that, fortunately, they may complement each other though they are fundamentally different from each other. Secondly, anyone writing about jewellery has to deal with at least three persons: the maker, the wearer and the beholder. None of the three must be ignored.”[1] These words, that are both a precept and a lesson to all those who get in touch, work and experience the practice of writing about jewellery, encompass the core of this exhibition project: on one hand the quest for finding the precise words to describe the feeling -melancholy- that stands both as despair and hope in each of us (the more vague the feeling is, the more accurate the words have to be); on the other hand, to collect the right words to describe and evoke both the pieces and the abstract concepts they convey.

Iris Bodemer's Suspended Silence

Iris Bodemer, whose “bodies of works are marked by with a certain degree of continuity[2] created a specific corpus of works where unity, balance and freedom form a unique triptych exploring the steps of her own artistic process as she explains in her statement.
The picture "Melencolia I" fascinates me on several levels. The copperplate engraving has a multi-layered depth in the drawing. At the same time, it holds a density of information whose symbolism has never been completely unrevealed. Dürer's complex pictorial language mirrors my situation in the workshop and opens the way to the three gems for the exhibition” she writes in her statement[3].

Iris Bodemer, "Dimension 2,31", pendant/object. Copper, kevlar, thermoplastic. Photo by Nicole Eberwein

Following the artist illuminating words, some of them surface with a peculiar force: they are “Tiefe/depth”, “Zeichnung/drawing”, “Dichte/density” and the most important one “Bildsprache/pictorial language”. All these words delineate and permeate the entire body of works created from this project, but especially the pendant that seems to house in its surface all the density and the depth mentioned by the Artist. The pendant, an engraved copperplate ornamented by a design motif in bas-relief is composed by two rectangular sided elements; the elements are both joined with a pin clasp and -as its inner “double nature” appears- it can be both worn or left alone as a sculpture. When the eye of the beholder looks at this piece, it is captured by the innumerable signs and scratches populating the surface. This resonance, which immediately goes to the copperplate of Dürer’s Melencolia I, finds its own “Bildsprache/artistic language” in that imprinted surface full of density, multi-layered significance and depth precisely described by the Artist herself. Moreover, as for Dürer’s Master engraving, Bodemer’s “Denkbild/pictorial image of a thought” is enclosed in a specific geometric figure.
All the signs traced by Dürer in his engraving, with the stunning effects of light and shadow, of chiaroscuro, depth of landscape and of insight, are constantly reworked by Bodemer, surfacing the chaos of creation and the need of that distance which is virtually necessary to the accomplishment of the realisation of a work of art.

Gigi Mariani's Temperance

I approached the project thinking that we are constantly looking for a balance. The thinking angel and all the symbols present in the engraving made me think of the endless questions we ask ourselves, the doubts and insecurities that life puts before us. The ups and downs due to the situations we face make us change our attitudes and sometimes finding a balance becomes complicated ...” the Italian artist writes in his statement.[4]
Gigi Mariani, Equilibri #1, brooch. Silver, 18kt yellow gold, niello, steel, 2021. Photo by Paolo Terzi

The “Equilibri#” series is a triptych composed by three brooches directly inspired by the magic square located in the wall at the top right of the Master engraving.
Dürer’s magic square, known also as a “Mensula Jovis”[5], is composed of four columns and rows where the sum of the numbers, whether disposed in a row, column and in both diagonals, is always the same, in this case 34. This mathematical square also houses the central cells of the lower row, 15+14, that form the date of the engraving (as the one “sculpted” in the lower part of the engraving, next to Dürer’s monogram).

Albrecht Dürer, detail of the magic square from the master engraving of Melencolia I. With the succession of numbers 15 and 14, date of the engraving.

The mensula Jovis, literally translated as a “Jupiter’s small table”, was one of those magic squares that the Italian mathematician Fra Luca Pacioli described in his manuscript “De Viribus quantitatis” (1500). The series of the magic squares, composed from three up to nine columns of numbers were directly associated to a planet as follows: 3 (Saturn), 4 (Jupiter), 5 (Mars), 6 (Sun), 7 (Venus), 8 (Mercury) and 9 (Moon).[6]

As it appears in Dürer’s engraving, the mood/temperament of “melancholy” intended as the particular feeling sensed by the artist who is born under Saturn, has to be moderated by Jupiter in quadrature with Libra. In this way the artist can create freely, temperating and modulating the two tensions: the one of the planet Saturn, which leads to discomfort and eccentricity and Jupiter, which governs ratio, reason (and geometry/measurements).
In this sense, the quest for Temperance, or the virtue of measure in all things, seems to be one of the possible interpretations of Melencolia I, while depicting the winged genius (the feeling governed by Saturn) sitting under the magic square (Jupiter) and close to the (winged) putto, who is sitting upon a grindstone and directly under a scale (Libra).
Tempering the tensions as well as finding a balance has to be one of the pursuits of the Artist, not only for Dürer himself, but also for Gigi Mariani who explains his creative starting point: “I started from the magic square, the 16 tiles that I proposed in the three brooches are presented in such a way decomposed and, in some cases mobile, to emphasise the small earthquakes that changes cause on us, but the intent is … the balance”.[7]
And balance, harmony, and equilibrium are converging in this set of three pieces, linking all the multiple levels provided by the “reading” of the bi-dimensional engraving. The surfaces have their own poetry and depth, provided through the pictorial modulation of niello which is fragmented in the sixteen cells that house the gold and niello moving elements surfacing from the square.

Ratio and Imaginatio in Yoko Takirai & Pietro Pellitteri

The Nippo-Italian couple, Yoko Takirai and Pietro Pellitteri, are an artistic duo that works as one. They conceive their pieces in two, they work them in two, but the result is just unique. This double nature, embodied by the two artist-jewelers, converges in their pieces and emerges clearly from their works always balancing between ratio and imaginatio (thought and imagination), order and “calculated” disorder, stillness and movement, sharp perimeters and deep contents, East and West.
As invited artists in this project, they measured themselves, and from different sides (even cultural ones), with the double nature of melancholy: but which one? Is it the one that generates despair or the “generous” one?

Like the couple of artists, Melencolia I encompasses a double nature too: from the technical point of view, this is the result of a drawing engraved on a metal plate, inked and then impressed on a white page. The luministic effects are due to the different signs traced by the burin, to their inclination and their depth: the chiaroscuro effects permeate the entire scene. So, light and shadow.
Widening the gaze, among the objects on the floor and the instruments all around, the mighty figure of Melencolia -with her black face- contends the status of protagonist of the scene with the sky covered by a comet and a rainbow breaking the dark. So, again, black and white; light and shadow.

Looking at the triptych composed by Yoko Takirai and Pietro Pellitteri another creative process displays itself with the “Respiro” (breath) series. A sharp, squared perimeter encloses the micro stain less-steel mesh that embodies all the depth of these surfaces.
The artist jewellers write in their statement: “Her gaze impressed us. There is a figure, in Dürer’s engraving "Melencolia I", seated, with a scowling, cutting gaze. We think that Dürer wanted to give this figure a task of expressing a state of mind of his own. We see this figure intent on deepening her thoughts. Her gaze emanates an atmosphere that encapsulates the thought itself; this state of mind is a privilege of geniuses and thinkers. Her oscillating thought ranges from the microcosm to the macrocosm. With our work, we have tried to capture the space that encloses this oscillating thought.”[8]

Yoko Takirai and Pietro Pellitteri, Respiro I . Brooch in silver 925 and hand-hammered micro stainless-steel mesh.

In “Respiro I”, the micro stainless-steel mesh seems to hold the artists’ breath while they are collecting their ideas among the tools, the inputs, and the hint of a forthcoming creative omen.
This peculiar moment encloses a double nature: it holds both the discouragement and the promise of the inspiration. In my opinion “Respiro I” is the controlled and restrained breath full of questions and impalpable in its consistency.
Melencolia’s gaze impressed the artists because it “emanates an atmosphere that encapsulates the thought itself”. Since the creation of this engraving, the eternal question is (among many others) the following one: what does Melencolia think? Her meditation is about what? A possible answer is the one proposed by the Italian art historian and philosopher Elena Filippi who writes “This woman does not stare at a particular entity, and she is not even vaguely lost in her thoughts; she is reflecting, she is following a thought that keeps her busy from the moment she stopped what she was doing.”[9]

Nichka Marobin

All the texts are from the exhibition catalogue of MELENCOLIA or The Saturnine nature of The Artist.

[1] Marian Unger in “IRIS BODEMER, Rebus. Schmuck 1997 – 2013”, with a text of Marjan Unger, Stuttgart, Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2013, p. I
[2] Marjan Unger 2013, op. cit., ibidem.
[3]Das Bild "Melencolia I" fasziniert mich auf verschiedenen Ebenen. Der Kupferstich hat eine vielschichtige Tiefe in der Zeichnung. Zugleich birgt es eine Dichte an Informationen, deren Symbolik nie komplett enträtselt wurde. Dürers komplexe Bildsprache spiegelt meine Situation in der Werkstatt und eröffnet den Weg zu den drei Schmuckstücken für die Ausstellung”, IRIS BODEMER, Artist statement (orig.).
[4]Ho approcciato al progetto pensando che siamo alla perenne ricerca di un equilibrio. L’angelo pensante e tutti i simboli presenti nell’incisione mi hanno fatto pensare alle infinite domande che ci facciamo, ai dubbi e alle insicurezze che la vita ci pone davanti. Gli up and down dovuti alle situazioni che affrontiamo ci fanno modificare i nostri atteggiamenti, e a volte trovare un equilibrio diventa complicato…”, GIGI MARIANI, Artist statement (orig.)
[5] As regards the Mensula Jovis and the specific notes on the magic square see: Marco Bertozzi Mensula Jovis. Considerazioni sulle fonti filosofiche della Melencolia I di Albrecht Dürer, sta in I Castelli di Yale, II (2), pp. 37-41.
[6] Marco Bertozzi, Op. Cit., ibidem.
[7]Sono partito dal quadrato magico, le 16 tessere che ho proposto nelle tre spille sono presentate in modo scomposto e in alcuni casi mobile, per enfatizzare i piccoli terremoti che i cambiamenti provocano su noi, ma l’intento è… l’equilibrio”, GIGI MARIANI, Artist statement (orig.).
[8]Ci ha colpito il suo sguardo. C’è una figura, nell’incisione di Dürer “Melencolia I”, seduta, con uno sguardo accigliato e tagliente. Pensiamo che Dürer abbia voluto dare a questa figura il compito di esternare un suo stato d’animo. Vediamo questa figura intenta ad approfondire pensieri. Il suo sguardo emana un’atmosfera che racchiude il pensiero stesso, questo stato d’animo è un privilegio dei geni e dei pensatori. Il suo pensiero oscillante spazia dal microcosmo al macrocosmo. Con il nostro lavoro abbiamo cercato di cogliere lo spazio che ingloba questo pensiero oscillante”: Yoko Takirai and Pietro Pellitteri, artists’ statement (orig.)
[9] Elena Filippi, Inesauribile Melencolia. Chiavi e ricchezza del capolavoro düreriano, Venezia, Marsilio, 2018, p. 147: “Questa donna non fissa un ente in particolare, e non è nemmeno vagamente persa nei suoi pensieri; sta riflettendo, sta seguendo un pensiero che la tiene occupata dal momento in cui ha sospeso ciò che stava facendo” (the translation is mine).

About the author

Nichka Marobin
is an Italian art historian specialized in Dutch and Flemish art history. She graduated from the faculty of letters of Padova (Italy) with a dissertation on Renaissance ornament prints from 1500 to 1550 in Germany and the Low Lands, focusing on the migration of forms, themes, and styles on the engravings of Cornelis Bos, Cornelis Floris II, Lucas van Leyden and the German Little Masters. In 2011, she founded “The Morning Bark”, a bloGazette on arts and humanities, where she posts about arts with a multidisciplinary path, including fine arts, books, fashion, and contemporary jewellery.