When Dan Brown was growing up in New Hampshire, his father, a math teacher, frequently engaged the family in puzzle adventures. Instead of gifts from Santa under the tree, they might receive clues to hiding places around the house or across town. So began the author’s fascination with puzzles, anagrams and the like. As Brown’s latest tome, “The Lost Symbol,” generates accolades and sales, the name Albrecht Dürer is also popping up more frequently due to an appearance in “The Lost Symbol.”
Dürer, whose name can be traced back to its Hungarian origins for a word that means door maker, is a well-recognized artist from the late fifteenth century, known for his paintings, prints and woodcuts. In Brown’s book, one of Dürer’s paintings, Melencolia I, with a square that has three lines of numbers adding up to 34, provides a key solution in one of the puzzles. We don’t want to be spoilers here so …
Melencolia I’s array of elements including an hourglass, empty scale, a purse and keys among others has long been fodder for analysis and interpretation. But really they could all be just part of the famous artist’s active imagination rather being indicative of something more. The artist is known to have collected animal horns, pieces of coral, fish fins and other curios. It is commonly thought that Dürer like any number of famous sculptors, glass artists and others did not actually complete the woodcuts with his own hands but rather by trained hired hands who used his drawings. Regardless, the appearance of the painting in this new book breathes new life into a very old work of art.
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