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 neighbourhood.
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
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 labouring 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
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 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
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,
watercolours, 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, long ago, 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."
My hearty Christmas wishes to all my readers. Have a good time!