It was while in his twenties that Dürer was able to establish a reputation and influence across Europe. This was down to the beautiful woodcut prints he produced.
Of the artists that were to follow him, Dürer was an inspiration to many, especially when it comes to printmaking. His career was to last over 40 years, and during this time, Dürer went on to produce a large number of works.
This also includes engravings for which he is best known. One of the many well-known works credited to Albrecht Dürer is Praying Hands, an ink and pencil drawing produced in 1508. The drawing is one of a number of sketches that Dürer produced as preparation for an altarpiece.
In the early 14th century, Albrecht Dürer created the pen and ink drawing we know of as ‘Paying Hands’ or ‘Betende Hände’ in German. The drawing is on blue paper that Dürer made himself.
It was a preparatory drawing for part of an altarpiece known as the Heller Altar that was a commission by Jakob Heller. The sketch shows the hand of an apostle and was destined to form the centre panel of the three-panel altarpiece. The drawing depicts the hands of a man who is praying.
You do not see the man’s body in the picture. What you do see however are the folded sleeves of the man. The image of the hands appear in several of Dürer’s other works. When it comes to the model for the sketch, there are many stories. One story is that Dürer made use of his brother’s hands for the sketch. However, there is proof that the story is true.
The view is that it is more likely that he used his own hands as the reference for the drawing. Although the altarpiece no longer exists as a result if being destroyed in a fire, a copy done by Jobst Harrich in the 17th Century remains. The copy along with the ‘Praying Hands’ sketch is located at the Albertina Museum in Vienna, Austria.
Although the image of Dürer’s ‘Praying Hands’ is over 500 years old it still appears in today’s modern culture in a variety of different forms. Examples of where the image of the praying hands has been used include:
In 2011 a student in Athens placed a graffiti mural on the side on a ten story building in the centre of town based on Dürer’s drawing. The mural differs from the original in that the hands appear upside down on the building.
The cover for the track "6 God" on Drake’s album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late uses a version of the original drawing.
The image of the ‘Praying Hands’ is one where a search of the Internet will generate a significant number of results.
When it comes German Renaissance artists, Dürer is one of the leading figures of the time. His legacy is that not only is he recognised for his engravings, he is also thought of as one of Europe’s first watercolour landscape artists. Of his many works they often incorporate classic motifs. Dürer also wrote a number of books in which he wrote about how his theological beliefs inspired him. In addition to ‘Praying Hands,’ some of Dürer’s other celebrated works include Melencolia, Saint Jerome in His Study as well as Knight, Death and The Devil.