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Praying Hands (Hands of the Apostle)

Drawings and illustrations, 1508, 29.1×19.7 cm

Description of the artwork «Praying Hands (Hands of the Apostle)»

The Praying Hands is one of the most famous drawings of all time.
The chief curator of the Viennese Albertina Christoph Metzger says that the painting is only second to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (c. 1490) in popularity.
After more than five centuries, the reproductions of Dürer’s works still adorn the homes of millions of people as religious icons. At the same time, Metzger claims that Albrecht Dürer painted the famous work for advertising. This is a finished work, not a preparatory drawing, and it depicts the hands of the artist himself.

Since the 19th century, this drawing was believed to be a preliminary sketch for the apostle figure in the lower right corner of the central panel of the Geller’s Altar (completed in 1509). It is named after the merchant from Frankfurt who commissioned it.

The original panel was destroyed by fire in 1729, but a good copy by Jobst Harrick survived, now it is housed in the Historical Museum in Frankfurt.
Metzger argues that scientists are wrong: why would Dürer make a separate detailed drawing just to reduce it to a tiny detail on a painted altarpiece? “The work is a miracle of observation, and it is too ambitious to be just a preliminary sketch,” he says. “Dürer made this ‘master drawing’ to demonstrate an example of his God-given talent to the visitors of his workshop.”

According to Metzger, the Praying Hands and several other drawings were created “for advertising” and were shown to potential clients so that they understand the quality available of their commissions.

The curator of Albertina also believes that the drawing depicts the hands of Dürer himself. “Very thin fingers and palms are similar to those that we see in his self-portrait of 1500 in the Pinakothek in Munich. In the drawing, the little finger of the partially hidden left hand appears to have a curvature or joint thickening, as it is shown in other self-portraits, such as the 1498 drawing from the Metropolitan Museum,” said Christoph Metzger.

Written by Vlad Maslov, based on the materials from The Art Newspaper
P.S. On the Internet, a completely fictional sentimental story is widespread, where Dürer is said to have depicted the hands of his brother. Read Oksana Sanzharova’s material in Arthive: Art Fake with Exposure. Hands of Dürer’s Brother, Quarries and a Poor Family

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About the artwork

Art form: Drawings and illustrations

Subject and objects: Religious scene

Style of art: Renaissance, Northern Renaissance

Technique: Ink

Materials: Paper

Date of creation: 1508

Size: 29.1×19.7 cm

Artwork in selections: 39 selections

Exhibitions history