If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Dürer, Four Apostles

Albrecht Dürer, The Four Apostles, 1526, oil on wood, 7' 1" x 2' 6" (Alte Pinakothek, Munich) Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker & Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

  • male robot hal style avatar for user mafricanoI94
    at , they say that St. Paul wrote that "the just live by faith alone." Those words are not in the original texts, but rather only in the translations of Luther. Even protestant translations usually write it as "The just shall live by faith" (the world alone does not appear). In fact, the only place in the Bible that faith alone (sola fide) appears is in James , where it says that "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone".

    The only time that faith alone appears in the Bible, is when it says Man is not justified by faith alone. If the texts do not say sola fide anywhere, where did Martin Luther come up with this doctrine?
    (6 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • male robot johnny style avatar for user xenxero1
      He didnt just translate the bible, he also simplified it of sorts. kind of re-phrasing. Strangely enough, that was completely what he was against. Now we see him doing what he distrusted the church with. Saying that it should not be re-worded or translated.
      (2 votes)
  • piceratops sapling style avatar for user Eveescamilla
    What would the scroll St. Mark is holding stand for?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • male robot hal style avatar for user jennyskene
      St Mark is one of the gospel writers, and artists often used a book or scroll for each of these four saints to symbolise their writings. An excellent blog which often features discussion of saints' attributes in art, written by an historian of the Renaissance, can be found at www.exurbe.com.
      (4 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user juufa72
    Why are was (is) Eurocentricism so prevalent in art? All these biblical scenes have European-looking people. The artists in the Renaissance and after took great strives to render realism in the human body, but ironically they omit the realism of race.
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • male robot hal style avatar for user mafricanoI94
      Because artists would paint what they know. They paint usually based on models and tudies of sketches that they've actually seen. None of them saw (except maybe the icon painters) what Jesus and the apostles looked like in real life. Many of them never went to th middle east either, and the middle easterners they encountered in their countries were usually turks who themselves invaded the middle East. Thus, when they painted figures from the Bible, they based their depictions on people they've actually seen.

      Do not throw racism on everything. You do realize that the Chinese paint Jesus as if he were chinese as well. Every culture paints the Apostles as if he were a member of his race. There are asian depictions of the saints, blacks depictions of the saints, in fact, the northern europeans would depict them as northern europeans, and the southerns as if he were a southerner. Not everything is a deliberate act of racism.
      (7 votes)
  • aqualine seed style avatar for user vickiful1023
    Is there any meaning of the color of the robes?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user nathanljenson
    Why were Paul and John favorites of Luther?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Paul wrote most of the New Testament. Luther was a Bible scholar. He liked Paul both for how much he wrote, and for what he wrote.
      As for John, that was a common name in the time and place, so there are many different people by that name in the New Testament. According to the fourth gospel, one of the apostles is identified as the one Jesus loved, but no name is given to that character. Later "guessers" applied the identification to John, who was mis-identified as the author of the fourth gospel. Since Luther loved Jesus, he took the one whom he supposed to have been Jesus favorite as one whom he, too, loved.
      (2 votes)
  • leaf red style avatar for user landrykai35
    Why does peter hold the keys of heaven?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Elizabeth Nicks
      "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16: 18-19)
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user John Mahoney
    Wasn't Luke the fourth apostle? I had not heard that Paul was an apostle - so could the title of the painting or the identity of the man in white on the right panel be incorrect ?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • purple pi purple style avatar for user frank gammons
    Is there any significance in that the eyes in the left panel are unseen and the right side the eyes are seen?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • leaf red style avatar for user landrykai35
    Who paid for this painting? Now that Durer had left the church, it was not the church, but it must have been a Private Protestant.
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Hana
    Why does saint Paul have a red face?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

(piano music) Man: We're in the Alte Pinakothek, a museum in Munich in Germany. We're looking at Albrecht Durer's monumental Diptych. It's actually two panels, The Four Apostles. Woman: This is such an interesting painting because it's at this very moment that the Protestant Reformation is taking place and Durer, the artist, converted to Protestantism. That is, he converted from Catholic, from being a follower of the Pope in Rome to being a follower of Martin Luther. Man: I'm not sure that that would be clear to just anybody looking at this painting. So how do we know that? Woman: Durer depicted in the foreground the two apostles who were the favorites of Martin Luther, Paul and John. And he is depicted behind John, the apostle who is most associated with the papacy, with the Pope, Peter. Man: He is the one that is holding that large gold key, which is the key to the Kingdom of heaven. Woman: Right there we have the Reformation because the Reformation was about Luther's idea that we go back to the Bible, to the original source, to learn about God and how to achieve salvation, not the church and its practices, but the word of God. Man: The idea that the average person would have to have heaven unlocked by the papacy was no longer relevant. We all had access to the Bible. Woman: Exactly. We could have a personal relationship with God by reading the Bible and through prayer. Man: So this is only 50 years after Gutenberg had invented the printing press in the West. The Bible was being printed and distributed. It was being translated by Luther actually into German. No longer only in Latin, but now in the common languages. Woman: Before that Bibles were only in the hands of the monks and the priests. We see Luther's translation of the Bible actually in this painting. At the bottom we see the words The Four Apostles. Man: Let's just go through this so we know who everybody is. On the left panel in red closest to us is John. We know it's John because of the sense of serenity that is so associated with him. We've already established that the man in back of him older, bald, and holding the key is Saint Peter. But on the right side in the foreground, that is Saint Paul. As we might expect, Paul is holding a book and he's holding a sword. Woman: Right he was killed by the sword and he held the book because he's also the author of the letters in the New Testament. Man: In the back of him is Saint Mark who can be seen holding a scroll. Woman: With Saint Paul we have another apostle who was important to Luther. It was Paul's words that inspired Luther. Paul wrote, "The just shall live by faith alone." It was by faith, not by good works, that one gets to heaven. This was the central idea of the Protestants. Man: But I want to spend a moment looking at what the artist achieved. What Durer achieved. These men are so powerful. There is such a sense of monumentality. Woman: They're each so different. With John there is a sense of calm as he reads. Man: Peter on the other hand is older and he seems to be reading almost over John's shoulder, looking at what John has been showing him, learning. Woman: And I think a sense of subservience to John too. Man: Well his attribute, the key, is almost forgotten. All of their attention is on that book. Woman: And in fact the Bible is open to a passage that reads, "In the beginning was the Word "and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." So this idea of not looking to the church but of looking to the very word of God, and then on the right two very different personalities. Again Mark, who seems to be on the lookout for some kind of danger on the horizon. Man: Whereas Paul looks as if he has completely come to terms with the danger that he puts himself in. Woman: He looks defensive. Man: Almost a kind of anger. Woman: All of these different personalities speak in different ways to this incredible moment of conflict. Man: Well this was a tremendously dangerous moment. Luther is rebelling against the church. These are states that are breaking away from the church. Woman: And wars are going to be fought and people are going to die. People really had to decide which path to take to follow the churches path to salvation or follow the Protestants path to salvation. Think about it. The fate of one's very soul depended on this decision. Man: There were also practical considerations because Durer as an artist, by giving up the Catholic faith, was giving up the patronage of the church as well. Woman: That's right because one of the things Luther's followers said, and Luther himself, was concerned about was the roll of the image of the church. They were concerned that people were worshiping images instead of God. So the areas that converted to Protestantism in Europe, the church doesn't commission works of art. The church was the main patron of art. Man: In fact, this was not a commission. These two paintings were made by Durer on his own and he gave it to the town elders and they were placed in the town hall in Nuremberg. Woman: We have written into this painting the perilousness of the time that Durer lived. In those four passages below we have the writings of the four apostles warning of false prophets, warning that human beings could easily go astray, and the importance of listening to the word of God and not to human interpreters. There is something in that compressed space that these figures occupy that focuses us on that idea of these figures transmitting the word of God. Man: So what a moment. People's religious understanding is being reinvented and Durer here is reinventing the way painting would respond. (piano music)