In a tiny village near Nuremberg, lived a fifteenth century family with eighteen children. 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 in order to keep food on the table for his family.
Despite their seemingly hopeless condition, two of the Durer children had a dream. They both wanted to pursue their talent for art, knowing full well that their father would never be financially able to send either of them to Nuremberg to study.
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 four year studies he would support the other brother at the academy, either with sales of his artwork, or 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. His brother went down into the dangerous mines and, for the next four years, financed his brother Albert – whose work at the academy was an almost 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 already 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 fulfill his ambition. His closing words were, “And now, 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’s brother 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 Alberts brother 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.”
One day, to pay homage to his brother for all that he had sacrificed, Albrecht Durer painstakingly drew his brother’s abused hands with palms together and thin mangled crippled 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.”
More than 450 years have since passed, and hundreds of Albrecht Durer masterful portraits, pen and silver-point sketches, water colours, charcoals, woodcuts, and copper engravings hang in great museums around the world. But, most people you are familiar with only one of Albrecht Durer’s works – Hands.
The next time you see a copy of this powerful and touching creation… take a second look…
Let it be your reminder… No one ever makes it alone!