DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)

The Four Holy Men (John the Evangelist and Peter)

Oil on panel, 215 x 76 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Having rejected the Gothic art and philosophy of Germany's past, Dürer is the first great Protestant painter, calling Martin Luther “that Christian man who has helped me out of great anxieties”.

These were secret anxieties, that hidden tremulousness that keeps his pride from ever becoming complacent. Although there is no reason why any Catholic artist should not have painted The Four Apostles, nor why such an artist should not equally have chosen first John and Peter (indisputably biblical Apostles), then Paul and Mark (mere disciples, not ordained by Christ in the Gospel story, though they were great preachers of the Word), it strikes a definitely Protestant note.

At the bottom of the two panels are lengthy Biblical inscriptions, selected by Dürer and copied by the calligrapher Johann Neudörffer. These begin with a warning against the dangers of false prophets: `All worldly rulers in this threatening time, beware not to take human delusion for the Word of God. For God wishes nothing added to his Word, nor taken from it. Take heed of the admonition of these four excellent men, Peter, John, Paul and Mark.' There then follow German texts from the four men, taken from Luther's translation of l522. Dürer's inscriptions mark his belief in the Reformation, but he expresses concern about the dangers of religious fanaticism.

These four embody the four temperaments: Dürer had a consistent interest in medicine and its psychological concomitants, since in some way he found humankind mysterious, and it was a mystery he pondered constantly.