The Four Apostles

size(cm): 110x40 Left Panel
Sale price£257 GBP


Renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer presented the city council of Nuremberg, Germany, with an extraordinary gift: a painting consisting of twin panels portraying four New Testament authors, accompanied by didactic verses drawn from the writings, attributed to each. These biblical passages were taken from Luther's first edition of the German New Testament.

The usual title of the painting, The Four Apostles, is somewhat misleading, as only three of the four men depicted in the work, John, Peter and Paul were strictly speaking apostles. The fourth, Saint Mark, a renowned evangelist, was traditionally thought to be a disciple of the apostle Peter. Currently housed in the Alte Pinakothek museum in Munich, Dürer's masterpiece represents one of his greatest achievements as an artist.

Dürer did not paint these four pictures to order. It was he who wanted to donate them to Nuremberg, his hometown. On October 6, 1526, the artist offered The Four Saints to the Nuremberg city fathers: “I have long tried to show my respect for your excellencies by presenting a humble portrait of myself as a souvenir; but the imperfection and insignificance of my works have prevented me from doing so... However, now that I have just painted a panel to which I have caused more trouble than any other picture, I did not consider any more worthy of keeping, as a memorial than your excellencies.

As it was common for many cities in Italy to grant the city council a work of art that would serve as an example of buon governo, Dürer wanted to provide his hometown with a work of his that had been made on purpose for this purpose.

The city council gratefully accepted the gift, hanging the two works in the upper chamber of the city council. Dürer received an honorarium of 100 guilders. The four monumental figures remained in the municipality of Nuremberg until 1627, when, after threats of repression, they had to be sold to the Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian I, a great enthusiast of Dürer's work. On that occasion, however, the prince had the inscriptions, at the bottom of the paintings, cut out and sent back to Nuremberg, considering them heretical and detrimental to his position as a Catholic sovereign. The city gave them to the Munich museum in 1922, where they were reunited with their respective panels.

John the Evangelist stands on the far left, holding an open New Testament from which he is reading the opening verses of his Gospel. Behind him is the figure of Peter, holding the golden key to the gate of heaven. On the other panel, standing at the back, is the evangelist Mark, holding a scroll. On the far right is Paul, holding a closed Bible and leaning on his sword, a reference to his later execution.

The Four Apostles was Albrecht Dürer's powerful political statement during a time of turbulence and social unrest in Northern Europe.

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