in the fifteenth century, in a tiny village near Nuremberg,
lived a family with eighteen children. Eighteen!
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 neighborhood.
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.
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 laboring in the mines.
tossed a coin on a Sunday morning after church. Albrecht Durer
won the toss and went off to Nuremberg.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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."
next time you see a copy of that touching creation, take a
second look. Let it be your reminder, if you still need one,
that no one - no one - - ever makes it alone!