I was marking a comprehension exercise done by a pupil for homework. It told a story about how the great German painter Albrecht Durer attained fame, what a tremendous sacrifice his brother Albert made to get him the career of his dreams, working himself to the bone for years in underground mines, and how the artist paid tribute to his brother by painting his work-wasted hands folded in prayer – a painting that became famous worldwide, and still remains.
A touching story. However, having read about that painting years ago, I had a niggling feeling that something didn’t quite sound right. So I checked it out on the net, here. And just as I had suspected, that story given in some school question paper or workbook was a silly sentimental fabrication. As a medical expert cum art historian confirms, they are not Albert Durer’s hands, indeed not those of a poor emaciated workman at all, but those of perhaps a slightly elderly nobleman, perhaps suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, and whoever the model was (it could be some obscure Italian), the same hands feature in another famous painting by the same artist which shows a saint praying. So this story prescribed for schoolkids is a load of tripe. And this, when any fool of a writer, publishing editor and schoolteacher can check out the basic background facts in five minutes thanks to google. Given the fact that children on their own read nothing these days, imagine what harm this kind of irresponsible misinformation is doing to their minds (my only consolation is that this kid, being a typical teenage moron, will have already forgotten the passage, now that it is almost five days since she did the exercise… after all, no one retains any datum for any length of time these days, neither love letters nor movie storylines nor chemistry equations for much beyond examinations). But I cannot help having recurrent nightmares about these children growing up to be parents and teachers.
By the way, I found that website so interesting – Hektoen International, a journal of ‘medical humanities’, that I have put it on my blogroll.