Hans Baldung Grien
Biography/Paintings of German Renaissance Painter & Engraver.

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The Three Ages of Man with Death
(c.1540) Prado Museum, Madrid.

For an idea of the pigments
used by Hans Baldung Grien
in his colour painting,
see: Renaissance Colour Palette.

Paintings by Hans Baldung Grien
are available online in the form
of poster art.

Hans Baldung Grien (1484-1545)

One of the important Old Masters of the German Renaissance, noted for his visionary painting - featuring elements of both paganism and Christianity - Baldung also produced some very high quality woodcuts with strong chiaroscuro. In addition, he designed numerous works of tapestry art, and book illustration. He spent four years in Nuremberg as a pupil of Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), before settling in Strasbourg, where he joined the painters Guild of St Luke as a master. While his idyllic and Romantic works owe something to Gothic art traditions, his mythological and allegorical works with their sensuous female nudes display a more humanistic outlook. Some of his more complex compositions were completed in a style that was later termed Mannerism. During the major part of his career, Baldung painted altarpieces - including his masterpiece, the high altar for Freiburg Cathedral - religious subjects and private portraits. During his later years he focused on mythological painting using secular themes taken from ancient legends, history, even sorcery and witchcraft. Major paintings by Hans Baldung Grien include: Eve, the Serpent and Death (National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa); Death and the Maiden (1520, Basel); Allegories of Music & Prudence (1529, Alte Pinakothek, Munich); The Three Ages of Man with Death (c.1540, Prado, Madrid); The Three Graces (The Harmonious Elysium of Youth) (1541, Prado). Baldung is seen as one of the most versatile, innovative - if somewhat unconventional - masters of the Northern Renaissance.

For developments in Northern Germany during the late 15th and early 16th century, see the Cologne School, which reached a highpoint under Stefan Lochner (c.1410-51) during the period 1450-1490.

Early Days

Baldung was born into a prominent and cultured family in Strasbourg, where his father was legal adviser to the Bishop. After learning draughtsmanship and engraving under a follower of the German painter and printmaker Martin Schongauer (1430-91), Baldung - whose personal talent was already well developed - entered Durer's studio in Nuremberg in 1503. Here, his close companions were Hans von Kulmbach (1480-1522), Hans Schauffelein (1480-1538) and Hans Leu, and it may have been to differentiate himself from them - and also because of a fondness for the colour green - that he began to sign his work, first with a vine-leaf and afterwards with a monogram formed from the linked letters 'HBG' (Grien).

Death and the Maiden (1518-20)
Public Art Collection, Basel.

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Early Works

Baldung enjoyed a privileged position in the studio: he was given important commissions to design church windows (for Grossgrundlach Church in 1505, and for St Lawrence's Church in Nuremberg and the Church of the Holy Cross in Gmund the following year). These favours continued even while Durer was away in Italy in 1505. His printmaking was equally important at this time; it included the 35 wood-engravings for Ulrich Pinder's Beschlossen Gart des Rosenkranz Maria (The Enclosed Garden of the Virgin's Rosary), published in 1505, and a collection of engravings notable for their energy and imagination. In 1507 Baldung painted two altarpieces for Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg for the church at Halle - The Adoration of the Magi (Gemaldegalerie, Berlin) and St Sebastian (Nuremberg Museum). The works display the influence of Durer and of Lucas Cranach the Elder, but also manifest a new and very personal use of colour and effects of contrast. (Compare the lyrical works of Albrecht Altdorfer and the Danube School c.1490-1540.)


Guild Mastership

Following this Baldung may have renewed his contacts with Durer at Nuremberg, but it is certain that he returned to Strasbourg where he acquired the rights of a burgher at Easter 1509 and his Guild mastership the following year. Following Durer and Cranach, he developed a bold style, both colourful and decorative, which bore fruit in commissions from, among others, the Margrave Christopher of Baden (Votive Image, Karlsruhe Museum) and Erhart Kienig, Commander of the Convent of St John in the Green Island, Strasbourg (Mass of St Gregory, Cleveland Museum). The sensual force of the wood-engravings of this period, too, helped to establish his reputation.


In May 1512, after painting a Crucifixion for the Convent of Schutteren in Strasbourg (Gemaldegalerie, Berlin), Baldung settled for five years at Freiburg-im-Breisgau, where he was commissioned to paint an altarpiece for the high altar for the city's Cathedral. The first of these shows the Coronation of the Virgin on the central panel and the Crucifixion on the back, framed by shutters with figures of St Peter and St Paul and scenes from the Life of the Virgin. The second, of which the sculptured part, painted by Baldung, was executed by Hans Weiditz, shows the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, surrounded, on the shutters, by the Annunciation, the Baptism of Christ and St John on Patmos. Baldung also made a series of wood engravings and illustrations, as well as drawings and cartoons for the stained glass art of the cathedral - carried out in the Ropstein studio under the direction of the Alsatian Hans Gitschmann.

Settles in Strasbourg

Following this very fertile period, Baldung returned in the spring of 1517 to Strasbourg, where he was to spend the rest of his life. He became a member of the town's Grand Council and a supporter of the Reformation - which, however, did not greatly affect his output, as his inspiration was secular in character. His last altar painting, a Martyrdom of St Sebastian of 1522, was, like the earlier version of 1507, carried out for Archbishop Albrecht of Brandenburg. He made the acquaintance of the first generation of Strasbourg humanists, men of liberal spirit such as the two Sturms and Martin Bucer, and sought to bring to his painting the character and sadness to be found in the human face.

From 1529 he turned to the new humanist theatre for inspiration - an influence that is clearly visible, to varying degrees, in such compositions as Pyramus and Thisbe (Gemaldegalerie, Berlin), Hercules and Antaeus (Kassel Museum), Mucius Scaevola (Gemaldegalerie, Dresden) and in several versions of The Virgin and Child in the museums of Berlin, Nuremberg and Vercelli.

Final Period

In his final years, Baldung's oil painting is notable for its emphasis on design at the expense of painterly quality, sometimes bearing a curious resemblance to bas-relief, as in The Virgin and Child in the Strasbourg Museum of Fine Arts. Even when he borrowed various details - movements, ornaments, architecture - from other artists, Baldung avoided overt Italianism. Of his later works The Seven Ages of Man (Leipzig Museum) and The Road to Death (Rennes Museum; possibly a copy of an original that has disappeared) sum up his concept of life.

Baldung's Art

The product of a violent temperament, Baldung's paintings are marked by disquiet and sensuality: witches' sabbaths, scenes of Death and the Maiden (Vienna, Ottawa, Basel and Berlin Museums), and female allegories (Alte Pinakothek, Munich). The same characteristics are found in his portraits, which are often brutally accurate, and in his humanist interpretations of traditional religious themes. Paintings by Hans Baldung Grien can be seen in many of the best art museums throughout the world.

Renaissance in Germany

Other major artists of the German Renaissance include: the religious painter Matthias Grunewald (c.1470-1528); the portraitist, Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543); and the sculptors Hans Multscher (1400-67), Michael Pacher (1430-98), Veit Stoss (c.1447-1533), Tilman Riemenschneider (c.1460-1531), and Gregor Erhart (c.1460-1540).

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