look what four years in the mines have done to my hands

I think just about every tattooer has done a pair of praying hands. I personally love them and what makes them even better for me is they were originally designed by my all time favorite artist. Albrecht Durer. But only recently did i find out the story behind these hands. Albrecht Durer (Sr.) had two sons (Albrecht and Albert) who both had a dream to pursue art. They both knew their father could not afford to send either of them, much less both of them to study art. After many nights in bed discussing their options they finally came to a decision. 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 labouring 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.


On Albrecht’s return his family had a celebratory dinner where he lifted his glass to toast his brother for his years of sacrifice.  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.”

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.”

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,”


2 Responses to “look what four years in the mines have done to my hands”

  1. maura kinahan Says:

    What was your source re the story of the two brothers?
    I have been unable to find this story anywhere. The father was a
    gold smith and jeweller so I dont think there was any need for Albert
    to work in a mine? Can you please clarify for me. Thanks.

    • it is a well known story. i am sure if you google searched the history of albrecht durer’s “hands” or “praying hands” you will come across more info on it.

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