This is surely one of the most reproduced works of art on the planet. Oddly, it was only a sketch in preparation for a larger work called the Heller altarpiece, done in 1508.
What is its significance for understanding the Renaissance? The early sixteenth century was as much a time of faith as the centuries before it but until this point the focus of interest was on the object of faith: God the father, Jesus the Son, Mary the mother of Jesus, or great heroes of faith such as David.
Now a shift is taking place: We are looking not at the object of Durer’s faith (which was quite strong, by the way) but at the person of faith, at the one who prays. Thus, the drawing is part of the larger shift toward a humanistic view of life and faith.
Another of Durer’s works which I like very much shows a different dimension of the shift from an other-worldly to an earthly perspective. It is of an ordinary hare, observed and portrayed with careful attention by Durer. Western culture is just rediscovering that the earth is worth noticing.
Three perspective: The Creator, the created world, and the human creature who is part of the earth yet has been created in the image of the Creator. Each perspective is important but we in the West seem to have been unable to keep them in balance. We carom back and forth between them, thus leaving ourselves forever off balance.
Have you found the balance?