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 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 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, watercolors, 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, if you still need one,
that no one - no one - ever makes it alone!