Hippocrates theorized that all people fall into one of four basic “temperaments” or personality types: Melancholic, Sanguine, Choleric, and Phlegmatic. He assumed that each personality type was the result of an overabundance of a certain bodily fluid (black bile, blood, bile, and phlegm respectively), hence their designations. A Melancholic personality is characterized by creativity and sensitivity, though prone to depression. A Sanguine person is light hearted, spontaneous, and confident —though sometimes also day-dreamy and overindulgent. Cholerics are ambitions and charismatic, but often impulsive and easily angered. The Phlegmatic temperament is characterized by self-assured calm, though they can be unemotional and inhibit the enthusiasm of others.
While the notion that one’s personality is shaped by an overabundance of phlegm or blood is now regarded as ridiculous, the 4 personality types Hippocrates identified have stayed with us. Though the types have changed and been refined, they are still part of the basis of modern personality modeling.
As products of the human mind, artworks often also can be attributed “personality” traits. An energetically painted landscape rendered in saturated color can be described as sanguine; a delicately lit black and white photograph of a contemplative figure can be said to be melancholy. An artwork’s temperament does not necessarily reflect the temperament of the artist that produced it.
We are seeking artwork that possesses or infers the characteristics associated with the Melancholic temperament, or the emotional state of melancholy. Below you’ll find more information on Melancholy and the Melancholic type, to get you started.
Melancholic is the personality of an individual characterized by black bile; a person who was a thoughtful ponderer had a melancholic disposition. Often very kind and considerate, melancholics can be highly creative - as in poetry and art - but also can become overly pre-occupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world, thus becoming depressed. The temperament is associated with the season of fall/autumn (dry and cold) and the element earth. A melancholic is also often a perfectionist, being very particular about what they want and how they want it in some cases. This often results in being unsatisfied with one’s own artistic or creative works and always pointing out to themselves what could and should be improved. This temperament describes the depressed phase of a bipolar disorder. There is no bodily fluid corresponding to black bile; the medulla of the adrenal glands, which decomposes very rapidly after death, can be associated with it.
1. Sadness or depression of the spirits; gloom: “There is melancholy in the wind and sorrow in the grass” (Charles Kuralt).
2. Pensive reflection or contemplation.
1. Affected with or marked by depression of the spirits; sad. See synonyms at sad.
2. Tending to promote sadness or gloom: a letter with some melancholy news.
3. Pensive; thoughtful.
"Melancholy is at the bottom of everything, just as at the end of all rivers is the sea. Can it be otherwise in a world where nothing lasts, where all that we have loved or shall love must die? Is death, then, the secret of life? The gloom of an eternal mourning enwraps, more or less closely, every serious and thoughtful soul, as night enwraps the universe."
- Henri Frederic Amiel
"Melancholy, indeed, should be diverted by every means but drinking."
- Samuel Johnson
"Sweet bird, that shun the noise of folly, most musical, most melancholy!"