The Moral Myth

Albrecht Dürer Praying Hands

A false story of the origin of the Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528) has been widely circulated for many years. In this work of fiction, Dürer comes from a poor family of 18 children. Albrecht and his brother both desired to be artists, but since there was no money for art school, the older brother went to work in the mines to pay for the cost of Albrecht’s education. The roles were then to be reversed. But alas, the brother’s hard work ruined his hands and the chance of ever becoming an artist. In tribute to his sacrifice Albrecht sketched his brother’s hands. Most likely this fictional account of the Praying Hands was constructed in the 19th century when there was a renewed interest in Albrecht Dürer and his work.

The drawing is a sketch (study) for hands of an apostle, whose full picture was planned to occupy the central panel of the triptych installed in Frankfurt entitled the Heller Altarpiece – destroyed by a fire in 1729. The drawing also once contained a sketch of the apostle’s head, but the sheet with the head has been separated from it. Overall, Dürer made 18 sketches for the altarpiece. The first public recognition of the artwork was in 1871 when it was exhibited in Vienna, and the image is thought probably to depict Dürer’s own hands.

"simplicity is the greatest adornment of art"

Dürer’s vast body of work includes engravings, his preferred technique in his later prints, altarpieces, portraits and self-portraits, watercolours and books. His watercolours also mark him as one of the first European landscape artists, while his ambitious woodcuts revolutionized the potential of that medium.

Dürer's Rhinoceros woodcut (1515) by Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528)

In 1515, he created his woodcut of a Rhinoceros which had arrived in Lisbon from a written description and sketch by another artist, without ever seeing the animal himself. An image of the Indian rhinoceros, the image has such force that it remains one of his best-known and was still used in some German school science text-books as late as last century.

Feast of the Rosary (1506) by Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528)

The Feast of the Rosary is a 1506 oil painting by Albrecht Dürer. According to art historians Jaroslav Pešina, it is the most superb painting that a German master has ever created.

Adam and Eve engraving (1504) by Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528)

Adam and Eve is a pair of oil-on-panel paintings by German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer. Here, he depicts Adam and Eve at human scale – the first full-scale nude subjects in German painting. Completed in 1507, the work followed an engraving of 1504 by Dürer on the same subject to depict the ideal human figure. Dürer’s observations on his second trip to Italy provided him with new approaches to portraying the human form.