Copyright Dr. Elizabeth Garner and Gary Hind July 29, 2014, All Rights Reserved

One of the most famous images of the Melencolia print is Durer’s sundial atop the the hourglass, next to the magic square, as you see here:

Melencolia sundial secrets and conspiracies
The famous sundial of Melencolia

Albrecht was an expert mathematician and wrote in his treatise, the Manual of Measurement, published in 1525, very specific instructions on how an artist should construct a sundial in an artwork, including sundials that appear on walls  or sundials that appear to be on the ground or considered solid.

In his instructions he reveals that the use of latitude is essential to be able to construct any sundial image correctly.  All of his instructions are based on the latitude of Nuremberg, which he reveals to us, as he knew it to be, 49 degrees latitude.


Durer reveals this image as part of his instructions:

melencolia sundials conspiracies
A famous Durer diagram on how to constuct a sundial that appears on a wall

All sundials showed 12 numbers on the sundial

In these instructions, he tells us  the following, knowing it is critical to accuracy:

1.  The axem mundi, known in German as the mauerlinie-the line along which the world turns, which the pointer on the sundial that throws the shadow must be placed

2. The pointer rod, also known as a gnonom to us today, has to be placed according to the equinoctial line-the equator

3.  The locations of the north and south poles, known as the Polum Articum (north) and plum antarctitcus (south)

Obviously, artists had to be well versed in mathematics and nautical information.  Nautical information and the creation of nautical instruments was a specialty of the Nurembergers since 1476.


Look again at how the numbers are placed on this sundial:

Melencolia sundial secrets and conspiracies
The famous sundial of Melencolia

The numbers start at the left with the Roman numeral for 9, them 10, 11, 12 and then 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

This matches the placement of numbers on the top.  And Durer tells us that for a sundial placed on a vertical wall, the left side indicates morning and towards sunset and the right side indicates afternoon and towards sunrise.  This is a function of how the Nurembergers counted time (see my article What Time is It? to learn the complexity of telling time in Nuremberg at ) and what season of the year it was for it to be either morning or towards sunset or afternoon or towards sunrise.

But IF you look closely you will see that THIS sundial is NOT a sundial, it’s a scroll! and the gnonom is throwing NO SHADOW.

What tricks are the Duerers playing with us again?

More to come!


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