Melencolia-The Secrets of the Knots-Where are they going?


Durer Albrecht melencolia nautical sea Renaissance art knots ships
Examples of nautical knots at sea

Copyright Dr. Elizabeth Garner June 27, 2014, All Rights Reserved


Because sailors did not have GPS devices!



When the nautical mile – 1.852 kilometers – was introduced in the 15th century, mariners had a  standard against which to measure speed. They created, out of necessity the chip log, the world’s first maritime speedometer. “They used materials they had on hand,” she explains. “A wedge-shaped piece of wood, a small glass timer (an hourglass), and a really long rope.”

But not just any rope would do. Based on the length of the nautical mile, knots were tied along the log line at intervals of 14.4 meters. One end was secured to the ship’s stern and the other was attached to the wooden board, which was dropped into the water. As one sailor watched the sand empty through the 30-second glass, his shipmate held the line as it played out behind the ship and counted the knots as they passed between his fingers. Dividing that 14.4 meters by 30 seconds told them that one knot equaled 1.85166 kilometers per hour, or one nautical mile. By performing the calculation using the actual number of knots that unspooled, the sailors were able to measure the ship’s speed. The average of frequent measurements taken throughout the day proved to be a highly accurate reflection of how fast a ship was moving. The data was used to help them navigate by dead reckoning, the method used before the advent of modern instruments.


Hidden in plain sight, there are many knots depicted in Melencolia, which are shown below:


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The knots on the Bell rope

The next one is this, on both sides of the apparatus that holds up the scales:

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The knots on the scales in Melencolia

And we have to decide whether this knot is part of the knot coding:

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The knot on the tablet held by the putto


Unless one is a sailor or a mariner, most people don’t realize that sailor’s or mariner’s knots are a “talking’ system which imparts information to those in the know.  It’s another cipher for sailors, just like the knitted “fisherman’s sweaters” of the British Isles functioned as identification information for sailors who died at sea and allowed identification of who the body might be if the body may have washed up on shore. Almost every country associated with nautical sailing has some sort of messaging system.

The knots in Melencolia talk to us.  In the next article, we will start learning what these knots are saying and why the Duerers are trying to speak to us and their target audiences for these messages in this type of encoding. It really is a very ingenious methodology of hiding messages ad directions in plain sight.

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More to come!


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