Saturday, July 18, 2015

The legend of the praying hands

Albrecht Durer, 1471-1528, grew up near Nuremberg, Germany -- one of 18 children. He and one of his brothers shared a dream. They both wanted to be artists, but their family could not afford art training. So they made a pact. They would flip a coin. The loser would work in the nearby mines and earn money to pay for the winner to attend art school. When the winner finished his art training after four years, he'd return and pay for the loser to study art, using money from his paintings or working in the mines. Albrecht won, and by the time he graduated, he was earning huge fees for his commissioned art work. He became the greatest draftsman in the history of Western art.

His most famous pen and ink drawing is "The Praying Hands," shown here. It has a rich backstory. When Albrecht returned home after four years, he was prepared to send his brother away for art training. But four years as a miner had crippled his brother's hands and he could not longer make delicate brush strokes. But he was not resentful. He rejoiced over Albrecht's fame, and one day was seen kneeling on the floor, with hands upheld, praying for his brother's continued success.

When Albrecht saw this, he decided to honor his unselfish brother by painting his hands in prayer. Since the sketch was finished in 1508, it has become the best-known drawing of its kind in the world. Even today, it appears on postcards, is sold as sculpture and distributed on posters. The backstory is pure legend. There are no mines near Nuremberg. The model's hands are not calloused by manual labor. But the point of the legend remains valid. Nobody succeeds alone. Everyone has a helper, and the best helpers pray for their brother's prosperity.

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