index praying hnds

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 Academy.

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.”

images praying ahns

Moral: The next time you see a copy of that touching creation, take a second look.

Let this story remind you of the love and sacrifices of families, to appreciate those who help us along the way because no one ever makes it all alone! We all have stepping stones along the way, to ease our load, to guide us, to help us in time of need, to support us and to love us.


The following account is not attributed to an author. However, there is a copyright filed in 1933 by J. Greenwald called “The Legend of the Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer.”



15 Comments Add yours

  1. John says:

    I remember having a replica statue of the praying hands in our home growing up. It was nice to hear the story behind the sculpture.


    1. Thank you so much! That is so nice to hear! 🙂


  2. I did not know this-thank you


  3. Amira says:

    It’s quite a story.


  4. wcallagy says:

    Many moons ago in Girl Scouts we painted replicas of these hands, and I gave mine after fired to my grandmother. Later, after she passed, the ceramic treasure was given back to me. Now sitting next to a photo of her, I understand the symbolism. thank you for posting this.


    1. Oh that is so sweet! What a lovely story, and having this treasure back with you in memory of your grandmother next to her photo! A lovely tribute, as she never really left you but lives always in your heart. I am so glad you enjoyed the post, as I enjoyed reading your story. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What a sacrifice between brothers and those days were so tough and having big, big families there would be so many sacrifices. I loved the beautiful hands that were so frail but to raise them in worship to the Lord. Awesome story and so much to learn what sacrifice is and at what cost.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you dear Kamal! The generosity of the humble brother to sacrifice himself with so much love really teaches us a lesson, you are so right dear Kamal. In those times of poverty, people had a strong sense of family support for one another, and they were not selfish, now we have much to learn in our modern times…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes absolutely true Amira and this generation will truly benefit by these stories and sometimes sacrifice is so important. Welcome dear.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. My mother had this praying hands in a carved plaque, which I gave to her faithful caregiver, nice story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh what a beautiful story dear Zaza! Such beautiful memory of your mom and her caregiver!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I took it as memory, you brought it forth as story, thank you for that.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You are welcome dear Zaza, ❤

          Liked by 1 person

  7. LindaP says:

    This story has always touched my heart and spirit so much! Such selfless acts are always so amazing to me!


    1. Thank you dear Linda! Yes, I feel the same way… ❤


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