Among the outstanding German artists of the period around 1500 was Hans Baldung Grien, a printmaker and painter. He produced book illustrations, devotional woodcuts, stained-glass window designs, portraits, and morality paintings as well as religious panels such as this one.
John the Baptist is here depicted to the left of Jesus. He simultaneously gestures to the lamb at his feet and to the infant, visually alluding to his own description of Christ as "the Lamb of God." The Virgin's mother, Saint Anne, although dressed in a sixteenth-century wimple, wears her traditional robe of red, a symbol of divine love. Garbed in green, symbolic of rebirth and eternal life, Mary offers Jesus an apple. This fruit, associated with the fall of Adam and Eve, here signifies Mary as the new Eve and Christ as the second Adam.
Baldung Grien's figures are symbolically, rather than realistically, depicted. Mary, for instance, is represented as a very young girl. And, although John and Jesus historically were about the same age, the Baptist is portrayed as an adult to emphasize his prophetic message. The painting was discovered in a small village church in Alsace, an area where the artist spent most of his life.
center right on base of middle pillar of throne, in monogram: HBG; on halos, left to right: S.IOHANE; S.ANNA.; .MARIA.
Church of the Order of Saint John in Jerusalem, Grünen Wörth, near Strasbourg, c. 1511 until probably c. 1633, and later in the Order's church in the cloister of Saint Marx, Strasbourg, probably c. 1687 until at least 1741. Village church, Alsace; acquired shortly after 1870 by Dr. Georges-Joseph Wimpfen [d. 1879], Colmar; by inheritance to his daughter, Marie Emélie Jeanne Siben [d. 1951], Paris and Zimmerbach, near Colmar. (Fritz Frankhausen, Basel), 1952; (Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York), by 1953; purchased 1953 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1961 to NGA.
- German Drawings: Masterpieces from Five Centuries, M. H. de Young Memorial Museum (last venue of four, travelling exhibition circulated by Smithsonian Institution), San Francisco, 1956, not in cat.
- Hans Baldung Grien, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe, 1959, no. 14.
- Gothic and Renaissance Art in Nuremberg 1400-1550, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, 1986, no. 179c (shown only in New York).
- Pariset, François-Georges. "Deux Oeuvres inédites de Baldung Grien." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6è per., 11 (1934): 13-23.
- Perseke, Helmut. Hans Baldungs Schaffen in Freiburg. Freiburg i. Br., 1941: 49-50, 66-67, fig. 8.
- Fischer, Otto. Hans Baldung Grien. Munich, 1943: 9, 20.
- Koch, Carl. "Katalog der erhaltenen Gemälde, der Einblattholzschnitte und illustrierten Bücher von Hans Baldung-Grien." Kunstchronik 6 (1953): 297.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Colllection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 26, no. 5, repro.
- Möhle, Hans. "Hans Baldung Grien: zur Karlsruher Baldung-Ausstellung, Sommer 1959." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 22 no. 2 (1959): 128.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 302, repro.
- Broadley Hugh T. German Painting in the National Gallery of Art (Booklet no. 9 in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC). Washington, 1960: 8, 32-33, color repro.
- Weihrauch, Hans R. "Berichte. Deutschland." Pantheon 18 (1960): 46.
- Oettinger, Karl and Karl-Adolf Knappe. Hans Baldung Grien und Albrecht Dürer in Nürnberg. Nuremberg, 1963: 105, nt. 247.
- Tolzien, Gerd. "Baldung, Hans, genannt Grien." In Kindlers Malerei Lexikon, edited by Germain Bazin, et al. 6 vols. Zürich, 1964-1971. Zürich, 1964: 1:188.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 9
- Fritz, Rolf. Sammlung Becker, I: Gemälde alter Meister. Dortmund, 1967: unpaginated, under no. 1.
- European Paintings and Sculpture: Illustrations (Companion to the Summary Catalogue, 1965). Washington, 1968: 3, no. 1614, repro.
- Koch, Robert A. Hans Baldung Grien: Eve, the Serpent, and Death. (Masterpieces in the National Gallery of Canada, no. 2.) Ottawa, 1974: 7.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 16, repro. 17.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 151, no. 164, repro.
- Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 29-30, fig. 32.
- Osten, Gert von der. "Ein Altar des Hans Baldung Grien aus dem Jahre 1511--und eine Frage nach verschollenen Werken des Malers." Zeitschrift des deutschen Vereins für Kunstwissenschaft 31 (1977): 51-61, figs. 4, 6, 8.
- Pariset, François-Georges. "Réflexions à propos de Hans Baldung Grien." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6è pér., 94 (1979): 2.
- Marrow, James H. and Alan Shestack. Hans Baldung Grien. Prints & Drawings. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 1981. New Haven, 1981: 125, 129, 221-222, fig. 56a.
- Cassill, Jean Kubota. European Paintings of the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries: The Cleveland Museum of Art Catalogue of Paintings, Part Three. Cleveland, 1982: 161-162, under no. 65.
- Osten, Gert von der. Hans Baldung Grien. Gemälde und Dokumente. Berlin, 1983: 21, 66-69, no. 12a, 71-74, pls. 32, 34-35.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. Washington, 1984: 151, no. 158, color repro.
- Borries, J.E. von. Review of Hans Baldung Grien, Gemälde und Dokumente. In The Burlington Magazine 127, no. 983 (February 1985): 97-98.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 35, repro.
- Heck, Christian. “Baldung Grien’s Grünen Wörth Altarpiece and Devotion to the Two St. Johns.” Metropolitan Museum of Art Journal 27 (1992): 85-99, fig. 1 and 2.
- Mende, Matthias. "Baldung Grien, Hans." In Allgemeines Künstler-Lexicon: Die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker. [vols.] Munich and Leipzig, 1992-[unfinished]. Munich and Leipzig, 1992: 6:440.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 63, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver, with the assistance of Sally E. Mansfield. German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1993: 13-21, color repro. 17.
- Löcher, Kurt. Review of German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries, by John Oliver Hand with the assistance of Sally E. Mansfield. Kunstchronik 48 no. 1 (January 1995): 14.
- Ainsworth, Maryan W. and Joshua P. Waterman. German Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2013: under no. 2; 20, 22, color fig. 18, 280, nt. 4.
- Silver, Larry. Review of Ainsworth, Maryan W. and Joshua P. Waterman, German Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 2013). In Historians of Netherlandish Art Newsletter 30, no. 2 (November 2013): 52.
The painting support was thinned to a veneer and marouflaged to hardboard in 1953. Examination of the remaining veneer at the top and bottom edges indicated that the original support was spruce wood (sp. Picea). The original support was probably comprised of five, or possibly six boards with vertically oriented grain. At the right side several long cracks suggest a sixth, very narrow plank, but there is no corresponding continuous crack on the surface to verify its position. There is a barbe at the top and bottom edges suggesting that the painting once had an engaged frame. The lateral edges are not original, but are fill material colored with wood stain. Examination with the naked eye in flesh and white areas, and with infrared reflectography, reveals considerable underdrawing using a brush and what is probably black ink. Striations over the underdrawing, seen with the aid of a stereobinocular microscope, may indicate the presence of an intermediate, or isolation layer over the underdrawing, but the striations are not disclosed in the reflectograms.
The halos are mordant gilded, applied over the moderately thick white ground. Paint overlaps the edges of the leaf. The glazing and inscriptions are applied over the fold.
Relatively large areas of ground have flaked away, and corresponding areas of paint are missing, particularly along the cracks joining the boards. The painting also suffered generalized abrasion. There is extensive retouching in Saint John's halo, the central areas of the Virgin's halo, and much of Saint Anne's halo. Major areas of retouching exist in John's left thigh, the bottom of the child's left thigh and a portion of Anne's skirt just below it, the front of the lamb's torso, and in much of the sky at the upper left. It should be noted, however, that the background landscape is not heavily retouched and that faces and limbs are in generally good condition.
 The identification of the wood was made by the National Gallery's scientific research department.