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

The Four Holy Men (Mark and Paul)

1526
Oil on panel, 215 x 76 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Four saints are standing, arranged in pairs, opposite each other in two panels. Three of the men are clearly identified by their attributes and the inscriptions at their feet; they are the apostle St John, reading his Gospel, St Peter with the key, and, in mirror symmetry on the other panel at the front, St Paul with his sword and book. St Mark, behind him, was one of the four Evangelists, not one of the twelve Apostles. The saints are also depicted at various points in life and represent the four humours.

The inscriptions confirm the panels function as a profession of faith in the Reformation and a warning to the town council of Nuremberg not to diverge from Luther's teachings. The inscriptions are not arranged directly beneath the appropriate apostle, but appear in the order in which they were written by the apostles. The first we read is not St John's, but St Peter's New Testament text. The inscriptions emphasize both the arrangement of the figures on a rectangular ground plan and the equal value of the depicted people. The texts from the Holy Scriptures were written by the calligrapher and artists' biographer, Johann Neudörffer (1497-1563). In 1627, when the original panels were taken to the Catholic city of Munich to form part of the art collection of the Bavarian Duke Maximilian I, the "offending" pro-Reformation inscriptions were sawn off and added to copies that were brought to Nuremberg. Not until 1921 were the original inscriptions finally reunited with the original paintings.