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Old 12-10-2013, 12:35 PM
Location: Pennsylvania
15,563 posts, read 9,588,275 times
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I assume, and hope, you're familiar with Albrecht Durer's Praying hands. There's a story behind them which, while not specific to Christmas, certainly embodies the feeling. This is the version I've seen most on the internet. I'm not sure how accurate it is: did they flip coins back then? Would a poor family have a coin to flip?
The version I heard and couldn't find has the brother volunteering to make the sacrifice. Wikipedia says the hands are actually the artist's.
Guess we all believe what we want.

The Praying Hands

Back in the fifteenth century, in a tiny village near Nuremberg, lived a family with eighteen children. Eighteen!
In order merely to keep food on the table for this big family, the father and head of the household, a goldsmith by profession, worked almost eighteen hours a day at his trade and any other paying chore he could find in the neighbourhood.

Despite their seemingly hopeless condition, two of Albrecht Durer the Elder's children had a dream. They both wanted to pursue their talent for art, but they knew full well that their father would never be financially able to send either of them to Nuremberg to study at the Academy.

After many long discussions at night in their crowded bed, the two boys finally worked out a pact. They would toss a coin. The loser would go down into the nearby mines and, with his earnings, support his brother while he attended the academy. Then, when that brother who won the toss completed his studies, in four years, he would support the other brother at the academy, either with sales of his artwork or, if necessary, also by labouring in the mines.

They tossed a coin on a Sunday morning after church. Albrecht Durer won the toss and went off to Nuremberg.

Albert went down into the dangerous mines and, for the next four years, financed his brother, whose work at the academy was almost an immediate sensation. Albrecht's etchings, his woodcuts, and his oils were far better than those of most of his professors, and by the time he graduated, he was beginning to earn considerable fees for his commissioned works.

When the young artist returned to his village, the Durer family held a festive dinner on their lawn to celebrate Albrecht's triumphant homecoming. After a long and memorable meal, punctuated with music and laughter, Albrecht rose from his honoured position at the head of the table to drink a toast to his beloved brother for the years of sacrifice that had enabled Albrecht to fulfil his ambition. His closing words were, "And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn. Now you can go to Nuremberg to pursue your dream, and I will take care of you."

All heads turned in eager expectation to the far end of the table where Albert sat, tears streaming down his pale face, shaking his lowered head from side to side while he sobbed and repeated, over and over, "No ...no ...no ...no."

Finally, Albert rose and wiped the tears from his cheeks. He glanced down the long table at the faces he loved, and then, holding his hands close to his right cheek, he said softly, "No, brother. I cannot go to Nuremberg. It is too late for me. Look ... look what four years in the mines have done to my hands! The bones in every finger have been smashed at least once, and lately I have been suffering from arthritis so badly in my right hand that I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast, much less make delicate lines on parchment or canvas with a pen or a brush. No, brother ... for me it is too late."

More than 450 years have passed. By now, Albrecht Durer's hundreds of masterful portraits, pen and silver point sketches, water-colours, charcoals, woodcuts, and copper engravings hang in every great museum in the world, but the odds are great that you, like most people, are familiar with only one of Albrecht Durer's works. More than merely being familiar with it, you very well may have a reproduction hanging in your home or office.

One day, to pay homage to Albert for all that he had sacrificed, Albrecht Durer painstakingly drew his brother's abused hands with palms together and thin fingers stretched skyward. He called his powerful drawing simply "Hands," but the entire world almost immediately opened their hearts to his great masterpiece and renamed his tribute of love "The Praying Hands."
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Old 12-10-2013, 02:51 PM
Location: Under the Redwoods
3,748 posts, read 5,813,444 times
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I think the story is an attempt to romanticize the hands painting. He came from a family of very successful tradesman, father included. And they lived in Nuremberg, he was born there.
Durer started his training as an apprentice at 15. And as far as I can recall, he never attended any academy, only apprenticed under other artists.

The painting I am most familiar with is his self portrait of him facing forward. It was quite controversial for that specific pose had never been done before- of the common man, the pose had only ever been used for paintings of religious persons, mainly Jesus and Mary.
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Old 12-11-2013, 07:21 AM
Location: Winston-Salem, NC
321 posts, read 441,643 times
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Found a post about that on Snopes.

[SIZE=2]I know this thread is probably past its expiration date, and that much of the discussion has been covered in the earlier thread from 2001 (missed that one, too)... but why should that stop me from briefly emerging from lurking status to make a rare (and belated) post?

This much from the glurge can be confirmed: Duerer (not sure how to do the umlaut over the "u," hence the "ue") did come from a family of 18 children. His father was indeed a goldsmith.

Ummm.... that's about it.

The real Duerer did not go to an "academy" in Nuremberg, nor could he have. There were no true academies of art until the seventeenth century (with the possible exception of Florence in the sixteenth century, but that's still after Duerer's student days). Instead, Duerer did what all art students did in his age: he was apprenticed to a local artist, in his case to the painter Michael Wolgemut. He wasn't doing much of his own art at that time, as his major responsibilities would have been cleaning paintbrushes, maybe painting in landscape details, cutting woodblocks after the master's designs, and other miscellaneous tasks. There's no record of him stunning his master or any of the other artists in town with his precocious genius.

Anyway, it's pretty common knowledge that the "Praying Hands" were in fact a study for an altarpiece Duerer painted for a Dominican church in Frankfort. The original painting, known after its patron as the Heller altarpiece, was destroyed in a 1729 fire. Surviving copies demonstrate that it depicted a Coronation of the Virgin, combined with features from the Assumption (apostles in the foreground around Mary's empty tomb, etc.) The Hands were a study for one of the apostles, kneeling and praying on the right (sorry I can't find a picture of it on the net). The study and the altarpiece were executed c. 1508, nearly twenty years after Duerer finished his apprenticeship with Wolgemut.

So most of the glurge is rubbish, but there is one little biographical fact that it may allude to in a very round-about way. Duerer did have a younger brother (born twenty-nine years after Albrecht; 18 kids in the family, remember) who shared his artistic aspirations. However, unlike the glurge brother, Duerer's brother was named Hans. What's more, Hans did get artistic training, under his very own big brother: our friend, Albrecht.

Even more interesting is that the Duerer brothers worked together on some projects, with Albrecht as the director. One of these projects was the Heller altarpiece. Doubtful that Hans modelled for the hands, as he was only eighteen at the time (the hands look older than such an age, although they aren't nearly as abused and arthritic as the glurge would have you believe), but an interesting story nonetheless and possibly the source for this particular story, buried underneath heaps of fiction.

All right, back to lurking then.

Lugh "all the words I've been saving up get blown on one lousy post" the Lurker [/SIZE]
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Old 12-11-2013, 11:27 PM
Location: Pennsylvania
15,563 posts, read 9,588,275 times
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I'd read they were a study for an apostle painting but didn't think that negated the possibility of the hands being his brother's. And knew artists at the time usually studied under another artist. But okay-I concede. A nice story but not true.

another bubble burst. sigh
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Old 12-14-2013, 06:19 AM
Location: NW NJ & SE Oahu
4,335 posts, read 5,153,536 times
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It is interesting...

(I posted it over on the "favorite painting" thread some time ago.)
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