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Old 04 March 2014, 10:28 PM
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Icon215 The Praying Hands

Many of us would have seen the picture of The Praying Hands, also present in many Christian homes, but would almost certainly not have heard the moving story behind this popular picture. Here is the story.

THE STORY BEHIND THE PICTURE OF 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 mob, 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 the elder children, Albrecht and Albert, 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 laboring 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 honored 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, 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 colors, 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." The next time you see a copy of that touching creation, take a second look. Let it be your reminder, that no one - no one - ever makes it alone!

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  #2  
Old 04 March 2014, 10:34 PM
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Well, that's pretty much the story I had heard about the painting 45 years ago. Doesn't make it true, of course.
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Old 04 March 2014, 10:42 PM
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You'd think the child of a goldsmith would apprentice rather than go down the mines. In fact, you'd think an aspiring artist would apprentice rather than go to an academy.
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Old 04 March 2014, 10:49 PM
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The Durer family was wealthy. Albrecht Durer was successful and well-known during his life and is considered the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance. I teach about him, but had never heard the story in the OP.

His life is pretty documented and we also have his writings, which do not follow the story above in any manner.

Link about The Praying Hands (it's wiki, but seems to be accurate).

Quote:
(also known as Studie zu den Händen eines Apostels in German, or "Study of the Hands of an Apostle" is a pen-and-ink drawing by the German printmaker, painter and theorist Albrecht Dürer, executed circa 1508.
The drawing is a sketch (study) for an apostles' hand who was planned to be in the center panel of the triptych for the Heller altar, which was destroyed by a fire in 1729.[1] The hand sketch appears on the triptych in the inside center panel on the right in similarity, although in smaller size. On the same paper is a sketch of the apostle's head, but the sheet has been divided from it. Overall, Dürer made 18 sketches for the altarpiece.[2]
The first public recognition of the artwork was in 1871 when it was exhibited in Vienna.[3]
The image depicts probably the master's own hands.[4]
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Old 04 March 2014, 11:56 PM
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D'oh! <- Albrecht Durer upon hearing this story.

Not this one again. See Lugh the Lurker's post from 27 March 2002:

Quote:
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).
{ snip }
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.
{ snip }
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.
Lugh's link appears to be dead now but I found another. And speaking of dead links, bufungla mentions an earlier discussion.

Brian
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Old 05 March 2014, 04:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A Turtle Named Mack View Post
Well, that's pretty much the story I had heard about the painting 45 years ago. Doesn't make it true, of course.
(Trying hard not to nitpick "painting"...) Wow, this story really does appear to go way back. There's a copyright entry for "Legend of the praying hands, by Albrecht Durer" in 1933. I wonder if that's the origin. (Hm, looks like that copyright is actually for Greewald's reproduction of the drawing. But it appears with the story in newspapers around that time.)

ETA - Earliest version I found so far is a very lengthy one from 1874: "Folded Hands by B. W." in Saint Nicholas, Volume 1.
In versions before 1920, the hands are not his brother's but another boy from the same town. In this version, he is Franz Knigstein ('Kuigstein' in other versions).

Last edited by ganzfeld; 05 March 2014 at 04:37 AM.
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  #7  
Old 05 March 2014, 04:47 AM
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Just examining the OP - I can see that injuries from working in a mine could be serious. (Even today, people still occasionally lose fingers, and hand injuries are some of the most common.) But to add in the arthritis after only 4 years? If the other brother had debilitating arthritis after only 4 years, wouldn't that have happened anyway, in about the same time frame? His hands might not have been subject to injury, but he would have been working with his hands, all the time, during his studies.

My point is that injuries would be enough - adding in the arthritis is what puts it over the top.
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Old 05 March 2014, 05:45 AM
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Also just exmining the story, surely in the 15th century, the eldest sons in a family of 18 would have when working long before the family reached that number? Didn't people start working in their early to mid teens. Even if there was one baby a year, this would have been long before 18 children, even allowing for a few sets of twins etc.
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Old 05 March 2014, 01:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dasla View Post
Also just exmining the story, surely in the 15th century, the eldest sons in a family of 18 would have when working long before the family reached that number? Didn't people start working in their early to mid teens. Even if there was one baby a year, this would have been long before 18 children, even allowing for a few sets of twins etc.

Not only the eldest sons but the daughters too, unless the family was incredibly rich. There were plenty of tasks a girl could do in order to bring money into the home, like spinning.

18 children while uncommon wasn't atypical for the time, 18 children who grow upto adulthood under the aegis of the rates of mortality of all ages at that time, would be highly uncommon.
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Old 05 March 2014, 06:55 PM
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Another thing - the father was a goldsmith - were no sons apprenticed to him? If he could work 18 hours a day, surely there was enough demand for his services that at least one of his sons could help him, at least with simple tasks. And in that era, they would have likely become apprentices in their early teens...
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Old 06 March 2014, 08:11 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by queen of the caramels View Post
Not only the eldest sons but the daughters too, unless the family was incredibly rich. There were plenty of tasks a girl could do in order to bring money into the home, like spinning.
Doh of course Why did I type sons? I was thinking all children. Of course all children in education to 18 is a very late 20th century first world idea.

Quote:
Originally Posted by queen of the caramels View Post
18 children while uncommon wasn't atypical for the time, 18 children who grow upto adulthood under the aegis of the rates of mortality of all ages at that time, would be highly uncommon.
That is true too.
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Old 06 March 2014, 11:24 AM
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I thought this was going to be the inspirational story of the giant praying-hands sculpture at Oral Roberts University.

Roberts had commissioned the sculpture, and it was installed. Buildings were built around the square where the sculpture stood. Then one day an earthquake hit and did no serious damage, but the hands were toppled onto their side.

To the dismay of Roberts, it looked as if they could never be righted: the necessary crane couldn't fit through the spaces between the buildings, and it would cast over fifty million dollars to take down part of a building, bring the crane in, right the statue, and repair the damage.

Then a humble, homeless man came to him and said, "Brother Roberts, I know the sculpture is modeled on your own praying hands, and I know how to set the hands back up again. It will cost you only a million dollars."

Roberts went through his wallet for his small money and forked over the million. Then the homeless man went up to the fallen sculpture, bent his head as though in deep meditation, and reached into his pocket.

He took a quarter out, threw it high in the air -- and the hands jumped up, opened, clapped shut on the quarter, and landed right side up.
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Old 06 March 2014, 01:28 PM
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So they were the hands of a Scotsman?

Also, where is the forced reference to Jesus and/or God? Where is the command to pass it on or be known to not love Jesus? Where is Fang?

I give it a C-.
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Old 06 March 2014, 02:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
Let it be your reminder, that no one - no one - ever makes it alone!
Socialism!
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Old 06 March 2014, 03:08 PM
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No GenYus234, they are the hands of a money grubbing person who claims to be a man of God.

I suspect you realize that was the point of Brad's story but I just wanted to be sure.

Thanks Brad, that made me laugh.
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Old 07 March 2014, 01:41 AM
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The interesting thing about looking back at this kind of UL is that people were rather unashamed of cribbing from others' works before the middle of the 20th century. Maybe some people think bloggers are bad but it seems like almost no one wrote anything original a hundred years ago. But it invariably goes down in quality over time. The OP glurge comes from a long line of glurges that trace back to a story told and retold until all the details were lost or changed. Fascinating.
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Old 07 March 2014, 04:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ganzfeld View Post
The interesting thing about looking back at this kind of UL is that people were rather unashamed of cribbing from others' works before the middle of the 20th century. Maybe some people think bloggers are bad but it seems like almost no one wrote anything original a hundred years ago. But it invariably goes down in quality over time. The OP glurge comes from a long line of glurges that trace back to a story told and retold until all the details were lost or changed. Fascinating.
Shakespeare stole almost all of his plots, of course. My theory is that somewhere around 1100 AD, one genius storyteller came up with all of the plots that later writers have been recycling ever since.

Robert A. Heinlein opined that there were only three plots for fiction: Boy Meets Girl; The Little Tailor; and The Man Who Learned Better. In other words, romance (whether it's between a boy and girl or any other possible combination), a character challenged to overcome his/her limitations, or a character who is profoundly changed by the experiences of the story.

However, on a memorable car ride, Jane Yolen once explained to me that Heinlen had it wrong: "There's only one plot: Joe gets his ass caught in a bear trap and has to get out."
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Old 07 March 2014, 06:11 PM
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So... among other things, I'm sorry but those hands are *not* the hands of someone who's had their hands broken in a mine. Those may be the hands of someone who has trouble extending their fingers all the way due to arthritis or something similar, but particularly given the state of medicine in the 16th century, if any of those fingers were broken, they sure got broken in a lucky, straight manner.
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Old 07 March 2014, 11:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ganzfeld View Post
ETA - Earliest version I found so far is a very lengthy one from 1874: "Folded Hands by B. W." in Saint Nicholas, Volume 1.
In versions before 1920, the hands are not his brother's but another boy from the same town. In this version, he is Franz Knigstein ('Kuigstein' in other versions).
Nice find. I first encountered this glurge around 2000. Since I had never seen it before I assumed it was new.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Slick View Post
So... among other things, I'm sorry but those hands are *not* the hands of someone who's had their hands broken in a mine.
Right. Hektoen International, which describes itself as an organization that "features articles on the medical humanities from a wide spectrum of global and cultural perspectives," says the the following about the Praying Hands:
Quote:
The Praying Hands in Dürer’s drawing are thin, with elongated fingers and well groomed nails, not calloused from manual work. The forearms are elegantly clothed, with sleeves made of expensive material, obviously the dress of an affluent person.
As mentioned in the Wikipedia page linked in St. Alia's post above the Praying Hands were a sketch for the Heller Altar. The best article I could find was this one, which is in German (Google Translate).

Brian
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Old 08 March 2014, 02:43 PM
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Helen Steiner Rice wrote a poem The Praying Hands that seems to be based on this story, though no names are mentioned, and I couldn't find any information about when she wrote this. (URL WARNING: overly busy wallpaper and cheesy WAV. file.)
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