Hans Baldung, called Grien, was most probably born in Schwäbisch Gmünd in southwestern Germany, the site of the family home. The most important evidence for deducing his date of birth (between 1484 and 1485) is a self-portrait drawing at age 49 which is preparatory to a 1534 woodcut. It has been pointed out that Hans Baldung was the only male member of his family not to receive a university education, for unlike many artists, he belonged to a family of academics, intellectuals, and professionals. His father was an attorney who seems by 1492 to have settled in Alsace. It is usually assumed that Baldung's earliest training took place around 1499/1500 in the Upper Rhine, perhaps with a Strasbourg artist, but an apprenticeship in Swabia has also been suggested.
By 1503 Baldung had moved to Nuremberg and had become a member of Albrecht Dürer's workshop. It was probably here that he acquired the nickname "Grien", perhaps a reference to his use of the color green or a preference for green attire. It could also have distinguished him from Hans Schäufelein, Hans Süss von Kulmbach, and Hans Dürer, Albrecht's younger brother, all of whom were in Dürer's atelier. Baldung immediately absorbed Dürer's formal vocabulary, as is evident in one of his earliest dated works, the 1503 pen drawing of Aristotle and Phyllis. It is quite possible that Bladung became head of the workshop during Dürer's second journey to Italy in 1505-1507, and these years saw the production of designs for stained glass, woodcuts from 1505 on, and engravings beginning in 1507. Dürer and Baldung remained lifelong friends, and on his trip to the Netherlands Dürer took along some of Baldung's woodcuts to sell.
In 1507 Baldung was probably in Halle where he had received commissions for two altarpieces. In 1509 the artist returned to Strasbourg and became a citizen. The following year he married Margarethe Herlin, joined the guild "zur Steltz", opened a workshop, and began signing his works with the HGB monogram that he used for the rest of his career. In addition to traditional subjects, Baldung was concerned during these years with the theme of the imminence of death and with scenes of sorcery and witchcraft. Along with Cranach and Hans Burgkmair, he was one of the earliest masters of the chiaroscuro woodcut.
In 1512 Baldung moved to Freiburg im Breisgau to work on his largest and most important commission, the multi-paneled high altar of the Münster, containing on the center panel the Coronation of the Virgin. The altarpiece was not completed until 1516 and Baldung returned to Strasbourg early in 1517 where, as far as we know, he remained for the rest of his life. From the 1520's onward the pictorial and psychological content of his work becomes increasingly mannered, reflecting in part exposure to Italian art. Although Baldung continued to produce religious subjects for private patrons, he increasingly painted portraits or scenes from ancient legends and history, such as the Hercules and Antaeus of 1531.
At the time of his death in September, 1545, Baldung was a member of the city council of Strasbourg and one of that city's richest citizens. His artistic estate went to Nicolaus Kremer, who was probably a pupil. Hans Baldung Grien was Dürer's most inventive and talented disciple, who nonetheless achieved a distinctive style. Baldung's oeuvre consists of approximately 90 paintings and altarpieces, about 350 drawings and 180 woodcuts and book illustrations.
[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, D.C., 1993: 12-13.]
Hans Baldung Grien. Exh. cat. Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe, 1959.
Shestack, Alan. "An Introduction to Hans Baldung Grien." Hans Baldung Grien. Prints & Drawings. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven. New Haven, 1981: 3-18.
Osten, Gert von der. Hans Baldung Grien. Gemälde und Dokumente. Berlin, 1983.
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, D.C., 1993: 12-13.