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Monthly Masters DiscussionMonthly Masters' Discussion - September 2020 - Durer's Praying Hands

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Monthly Masters' Discussion - September 2020 - Durer's Praying Hands

Post by minniev »

Introduction
The image we will review this month is Albrecht Durer's “Praying Hands”. It is likely familiar to you in some form even if you aren't sure where it came from. It has been used for many purposes in print and sculpture. The original “Praying Hands” is a pen and ink sketch on a blue paper that was created by the artist. The artist used a technique called “white heightening” to convey depth and enhance a sense of texture. There is still controversy about the intent of the artwork: one theory maintains that it is a finished work meant to convey the hands of an apostle, another suggests it was a preliminary sketch for a section of an intended altarpiece, and a third contends that it was meant as an advertisement to showcase the intricate skill of the artist and recruit other customers. There are also competing theories about whether Durer featured his own hands in the sketch, or his brothers, or someone else’s. There are more stories about this artwork than any I’ve researched since beginning these threads; some are linked below and others can be found with a Google search.

Albrecht Durer was a German painter, printmaker and art theorist born in 1471. His watercolors mark him as one of the first European landscape artists, while his ambitious woodcuts revolutionized the potential of that medium. His prints established his reputation across Europe when he was still in his twenties, and he has been conventionally regarded as the greatest artist of the Renaissance in Northern Europe ever since. His books on the subjects of measurements and proportion in art were considered early classics in their field.

Review some of the linked material, look closely at the sketch, and try to think past any preconceptions you may have because of its familiarity. (I have to think past the bookends inherited from my husband’s grandmother, and the many church bulletins I’ve seen that featured the artwork). Then share your impression of it. The questions below may help you formulate your thinking.

Questions to Consider
1. What do you think of the artwork? Is it compelling or not? Why? Is the level of detail sufficient or not? Is it too simple? Is there a story? Why do you think the artist selected this color for the background? Would you want it displayed on your wall?
2. Why is this image so widely utilized? There are hundreds of thousands of images from the thousand years of Western religious art. Why is this one so iconic? How has it stayed relevant?
3. The human hand has always been an intriguing subject for artists and photographers, and can be used to convey a larger story. How well does this art work convey its story? Have you made photographs specifically of human hands? If so, would you share your favorite and offer any comments about your capture and the story you sought to convey?
4. Read over the competing explanations for how this art work came to be. Is one explanation more convincing to you? Why do you think there are so many competing stories? Do you think the original intent matters? Why or why not? Do you always have a specific intent for your work? Have you ever started with one intent and changed your mind later after looking at or working with the image, and used it for an entirely different purpose or story? Share any particulars if you’d like.

Links for Further Study

http://totallyhistory.com/praying-hands/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praying_H ... %C3%BCrer)
http://www.albrechtdurer.org/praying-hands/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGbZhcAMZ14
https://hekint.org/2017/01/25/the-model ... ing-hands/
https://www.theartstory.org/artist/dure ... /artworks/
https://www.artic.edu/artists/40561/albrecht-durer
https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/du ... dvertising
Attachments
fair use: http://www.albrechtdurer.org/praying-hands/
fair use: http://www.albrechtdurer.org/praying-hands/
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by uuglypher »

Wonderful topic, Min!

Many artists In many media will acknowledge the necessity of rendering hands and manual gestures well- as well as the damnable challenge that necessity presents to do it well. “Hands are a bitch to do” is a common sentiment among legions of representative/illustrative artists.
I First became aware that hands were important communicative tools by watching Miss Bushly, my fourth grade teacher; her hands seemed as explicitly and articulately as important as were her voiced words and her facial expressions. Another early example of articulate gestural communication was Mr Reid, our chorus director in junior Highschool. His hands spoke volumes! And I often recognized over the years that the most effective users of the classroom for facilitating learning were, probably not simply coincidentally, articulate users of gestural communication.

Indeed,IMO in some cultures, manual gestures are at least as important in communication, if not more important than facial expression.
Hands are fascinating and a number of books on the role of gestures in verbal augmentation and communication have been written. I have a book that goes into wonderful detail on the use of the incredible range and variety of manual and manual/postural gestures used by many cultures ( can’t find it right now or I’d give you the specific reference. If I haven’t lent it to my son I’ll find it and tell you later.)
And, of course, the use of the touch-of-hand in much silent and intimate communication is truly awesome in its potential virtuosity.

IMO Durer’s “Hands in Prayer” are second only to Michaelangelo’s rendering of the hands of God and Adam.

I am, indeed, looking forward to progression of this thread!

Dave

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Post by uuglypher »

To start on your questions:
“ 1.
A.” What do you think of the artwork?” It’s a classic; one of a kind universally recognized in the western world as the essential symbol of prayer..and thus incomparable.

B. “Is it compelling or not? Why?” Clearly, it is compelling to the community of believers, by its unifying symbolism.

C. “Is the level of detail sufficient or not? Is it too simple?” Compared to what? A photograph? No, but photographic realism wasn’t and isn’t expected.
EDIT: I had not understood that it was but a sketch of a detail fo another work. I always thought it a finished piece, explaining AD’s care with detail rendered. Sketch cartoons by many great artists rarely if ever reveal such detail.
D.” Is there a story?” Effective symbolism requires no story. Unless perhaps it might be the themes of the Old and New Testament, the Sanskrit bases of Hinduism, the Khoranic Sutras, and the interpreted philosophies of Theravada and Mahayana Bhuddism.

E.”Why do you think the artist selected this color for the background?” My guess is based on the common supposition that the most restful color is somewhere among the blues and greens...no idea if a. That’s true, nor b. If that’s actually why he chose it.

F.”Would you want it displayed on your wall?“
If I owned the original, it would be in a vault or a museum. A print? No.

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Post by uuglypher »

And responding to a question under #4:
As a scientist, naturalist and artist I am constantly in awe of the results of the interrelationships of energy,mass, and the speed of light, of the processes by which the Cosmos took form, of our Earth’s continual geological transformations, and of the majesty, order, and vicissitudes of the process of evolution. Most pictures I make, in any medium, are almost always of some aspect of nature, and my intent with each is that it reflect, as well as possible, my vision of, and my feelings about what I observe.

Ok; I’m done for a while!

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Post by minniev »

Thank you Dave for such a great well thought out response. I always learn a lot from researching topics for these threads, whether anyone responds or not, but it is joy to me when someone engages with them!. I have always been struck by portraits of hands, and I will post one of mine. If you feel inclined, add one of yours to the thread!
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by PietFrancke »

hands are iconic and powerful. While the eyes are a window to the soul, our hands define us. Do we help? Are they open or in a fist? Is there blood on your hands? Behind the eyes there is hidden meaning, but hands do not lie.

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Post by uuglypher »

D5B3E1A4-D45A-4462-85D7-E96D38552AAD.jpeg
13450A4F-1D28-4505-A286-5A0C9247CDF1.jpeg
13450A4F-1D28-4505-A286-5A0C9247CDF1.jpeg (35.23 KiB) Viewed 513 times
Hand images? Okey dokey!
One is by my wife, the other mine; I prefer hers!
Dave

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Post by uuglypher »

An additional response to the question re: Dürer’s choice of colored background is acknowledgement that choice of a toned, colored ground on which to sketch, paint, of otherwise render an image provides a “tonal base” against which highlight and shadow detail can be expressed - technically as they would be within any work on a White ground - but with a very different visual effect of the final image as a whole. Highlight and shadow detail take on different effectual impact depending upon the value (“depth” of the ground beneath and around the subject.

Such “toned ground” art was being adopted by many artists from Dürer’s time and those early ventures into the non-traditional colored/toned ground has influenced graphic artists to the present time (including yours truly).
While I earlier said that I had no idea specifically why Dürer chose that particular blue-gray ground I should also have pointed out specifically why an artist would choose a toned ground as his choice for a finely detailed image involving subtle to strong shadow and highlight detail.

Other examples of use of toned ground by Dürer:
“Kneeling donor”, “Head of an Apostle”, “Study of Two Feet”, “An Elderly Man of Ninety-three Years”, “Head of an Angel”, “Hanns Dürer, Brother of Albrecht Dürer“.

Dave

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Post by minniev »

PietFrancke wrote:
Wed Sep 02, 2020 12:36 am
hands are iconic and powerful. While the eyes are a window to the soul, our hands define us. Do we help? Are they open or in a fist? Is there blood on your hands? Behind the eyes there is hidden meaning, but hands do not lie.
Thanks for sharing some interesting thoughts about the story the hands can tell.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by minniev »

uuglypher wrote:
Wed Sep 02, 2020 1:10 pm
D5B3E1A4-D45A-4462-85D7-E96D38552AAD.jpeg13450A4F-1D28-4505-A286-5A0C9247CDF1.jpeg

Hand images? Okey dokey!
One is by my wife, the other mine; I prefer hers!
Dave
Beautiful story! Thanks for sharing.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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