The Four Apostles

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The Four Apostles, Albrecht Dürer, 1526. Each panel 215 cm x 76 cm (85 in x 30 in), oil on lindenwood. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

The Four Apostles is a panel painting by the German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer. It was finished in 1526, and is the last of his large works. It depicts the four apostles larger-than-life-size. The Bavarian Elector Maximilian I obtained The Four Apostles in the year 1627 due to pressure on the Nuremberg city fathers. Since then, the painting has been in Munich, in the Alte Pinakothek, and, despite all the efforts of Nuremberg since 1806, it has not been returned.


External video
Albrecht Dürer - The Four Holy Men (detail) - WGA07027.jpg
video icon Smarthistory - Dürer's The Four Apostles

When Dürer moved back to Nuremberg he produced many famous paintings there, including several self-portraits. He gave The Four Apostles to the town council. Saints John and Peter appear in the left panel; the figures in the right panel are Saints Mark and Paul. Mark and Paul both hold Bibles, and John and Peter are shown reading from the opening page of John's own Gospel. At the bottom of each panel, quotations from the Bible are inscribed.[1]

The apostles are recognizable by their symbols:

  • St. John the Evangelist: open book
  • St. Peter: keys
  • St. Mark: scroll
  • St. Paul: sword and closed book

They are also associated with the four temperaments.

  • St. John: sanguine
  • St. Peter: phlegmatic
  • St. Mark: choleric
  • St. Paul: melancholy

Historical context[edit]

The Four Apostles was created during the Reformation, begun in 1517 and having the largest initial impact on Germany. Some Protestants believed that icons were contradictory to the Word of God, which was held in the utmost supremacy over, thus some Protestant churches would not patron any sacred art. Therefore, some Protestant artists, like Dürer became, had to commission their own works. Many aspects of the image depicted prove significant in light of the Reformation itself.[1] This painting has had many speculations as to the intentions, one being that it was Dürer's way of creating a sort of legacy piece by creating what he considered to be a worthy piece.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Dürer's Four Apostles". Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
  2. ^ Christensen, Carl C. (1967). "Durer's 'Four Apostles' and the Dedication as a Form of Renaissance Art Patronage". Renaissance Quarterly. 20 (3): 325–334. doi:10.2307/2859654. ISSN 0034-4338.

External links[edit]

Media related to Four Apostles by Dürer at Wikimedia Commons