In 1508 Albrecht Dürer, famed German printmaker and Nürnberg citizen, was commission by Jakob Heller of Frankfurt to paint a large altarpiece for a new church. The Heller Altarpiece was the second commission of the printer since his training in Venice, Italy (1504-1507) to paint like an Italian master. In order to prepare for such a commission, Dürer spent over a year creating drawings of black ink and white chalk on blue Venetian paper to serve as inspiration for the large painting. However once the painting was complete, the artist held onto these ink and chalk drawings as part of his personal collection of art. It is from this group of drawings, that the now iconic Betende Hände had its start. Today the image of two praying hands is appropriated for posters, pins, headstones, and even tattoos. The original context as a personal drawing kept by the artist, Albrecht Dürer, is completely divorced from its contemporary use. It is thesis's argument that Betende Hände was not only a very personal drawing for Dürer, but also a moment of self-fashioning, metaphorical experimentation, and abstract self-portraiture. Rather than simply representing prayer, Dürer's Betende Hände captures his desire to become like unto Christ. The composition appears simple, but upon further inspection reveals a unique quality and form borrowed from the Gothic architecture of the German Hallenkirche. The fingers extend vertically like rib vaults from the palms only to touch at the points giving the hands an overall triangular composition. With this drawing, Dürer experimented with his metaphorical self beyond any other point in his career, and becomes like Christ. Only the form of Christ that Dürer choose after which to fashion himself was the architectural form of Christ or the Gothic Church. Therefore this thesis will trace the emergence of Dürer's metaphor of body as architecture via the cultural environment of pre-Reformation Germany and popular religious texts that related the body of the worshipper to the church form. As a result, Betende Hände gives unique insight into the identity of a Catholic Dürer.



College and Department

Humanities; Comparative Arts and Letters



Date Submitted


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Dürer, Gothic church, self-portraiture, pre-Reformation, Nürnberg, Betende Hände