PRAYING HANDS
Posted on August 26th, 2021

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando

The writer is confident that readers may have seen the picture of ‘praying hands’ umpteen times, mainly hung on Christian homes, but wonders how the story originated! As narrated initially by Ranjit Seneviratne, some time ago, the story was about a family in Nuremberg, West Germany, in the fifteenth century. Dürer’s was a large family with eighteen children. 

The children’s father was a professional goldsmith. Because he had to provide food for so many children, the father had to work overtime up to eighteen hours a day. Despite their hopeless financial situation, one of two of the elder children, Albrecht once had a dream about becoming rich by following his father’s talent. He discussed his dream with Albert, his brother. But in real life, they were quite convinced that their father would never allow them to do so, however much they were financially miserable. 

The father’s wish was to send both boys to the Nuremberg Academy to become professionals. Their dream was discussed in the night, in their crowded bed. After a lengthy discussion in their packed bed in the night, the two boys reached an agreement to toss a coin. The loser would go to the local mines or do sales and earn to support his other brother who attended the University. The brother who won the toss had to participate in the academy and engage in studies diligently. So, they tossed a coin on a Sunday morning after returning from the Church and Albert lost the agreement, which opened the opportunity for Albrecht to go to the Nuremberg Academy. Albrecht Durer, as per agreement, between the two brothers, went off to Nuremberg to attend studies at the academy. 

Consequence of the Dream 

Meanwhile, Albert Durer had to go down the dangerous mines for four years devotedly to finance his brother, whose work at the academy was a sensation to him. Albrecht’s progress of producing etched plates and objects, his woodcuts, and his oils at the Nuremberg Academy was far superior to his professors’. After the graduation, he was able to earn substantially. When the young, qualified sculptor returned home, his parents, and the rest of his (Durer) family held a grand dinner on their lawn to celebrate and welcome Albrecht’s success.

 At the Dinner Party 

After a memorable dinner, with beer to the galore, Albrecht stood up from his chair and raised his glass to drink together in honour of his beloved brother’s (Albert) for his four years of dedicated sacrifice, which made him (Albrecht Durer) fulfil his ambition successfully. 

Holding the glass and with loving words, he made an emotional speech that touched every one who attended the dinner and the family. At the end of his speech, he raised his glass again and said: Now, Albert, you, are my blessed brother, who scarified your life for four years on account of me to qualify at the academy, it is now your turn to go to Nuremberg Academy to pursue the dream. On my part, I can take care of all your expenses at the academy.”

All heads turned towards the far end of the table where Albert was sitting. His eyes were wet with emotion, and his face looked pale . In a tottering voice, he lowered his head from side to side and sobbed with sentiment and repeated the words, saying, “No! No!!…. No….!!!  Finally, Albert Durer rose and wiped the tears and glanced down the long table at the faces he loved, and then, holding his hands close to his right cheek, said softly, “No, No!! Brother, I cannot go to Nuremberg Academy, look at my hands. 

Thank you, brother, for the kind gesture, but it is too late for me. See what has happened to my hands for the past four years having to work at the mines! The bones of all the fingers were smashed at least once. Of late, I was suffering from arthritis so very badly, in my right hand, that I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast! No, brother . It’s too late for me. I am so sorry. Thank you very much for your sacrifice. I love you so much.” 

In Loving Memory

 Later, in loving memory of his beloved brother Albrecht Durer crafted a masterful portrait as a reminder of his brother’s dedication, which helped him to become a professional craftsman. It was done in pen and silver point sketches, watercolours, corals, woodcuts, and copper engravings, all of it as a total dedication to his beloved brother Albert, who sacrificed in the mines for four consecutive years, which enabled Albrecht to master his father’s job in a much wider sense. 

Albrecht Durer painstakingly drew his brother’s abused hands with palms together, and thin fingers stretched skyward to pay homage to Albert for all he had sacrificed. 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 as “The Praying Hands.” It was over many centuries ago that the emotional story took place. 

Yet, masterful portraits, woodcuts, and even copper engravings are available today about the two hands as a commemoration of Albert’s sore hands created by hissbrother Albrecht Durer, as paying compensation to his brother. Albert kept to his word and helped his brother to study and graduate at the Nuremberg Academy. Albrecht Durer’s masterful portraits, pen and silver-point sketches, watercolours, charcoals, woodcuts, and copper engravings hang in every great museum in the world even today. 

But many buy them as a religious observation , without knowing the real story behind the emergence of an invaluable piece of craft created by Albrecht Durer. Currently there are so many reproductions hanging in your homes or offices .

Next time you see a copy of that touching creation, take a second and look sharply. Let it be your reminder, if you still need one, that no one – no one – ever makes it alone

tilakfermando@gmail.com 

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