Translation by Christoph Werner (Weimar, Thuringia) and Michael Leonard (Petaluma, California)
Hans Baldung (1484-1545), also called Hans Baldung Grien, is regarded as one of Albrecht Dürer’s (1471-1528) most important pupils and assistants. He is known primarily for his sensual representation of women.
When, as a boy, one of my classmates in religious instruction mentioned the many nude images in the paintings and sculptures of the period, our teacher replied that the artists, unlike perhaps ourselves, were not guided by a sense of voluptuousness, but rather their aim had always been to depict the sublime in God's creation. Later, after I had studied the biographies of various artists, I felt I had to form my own opinion about that. Baldung Grien was, like many of his colleagues, highly interested in sexual matters and expressed that interest in many of his pictures.
But since in his time erotic representations were forbidden, he found, like others, a clever way around the prohibition. He did not paint decent, well-respected contemporary women in the nude, but "evil" witches, women of legend and women whose morals were considered questionable as well as females from classical
antiquity. That was quite common at the time and tolerated by the church. It is worth while to consider Baldung's fascination with witchcraft. Those works are highlights of erotic painting and would easily exceed pictures from "Playboy" magazine. His "Death and the Maiden" shows the first depiction of pubic hair in painting until modern times.
Hans Baldung was born in 1484 or 1485 in the Imperial Free City of Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany, into an academic family of doctors and lawyers. When he was fifteen, he began his artistic training in an artist's workshop in Strasbourg. In 1503 he travelled to Nuremberg, where he became one of Albrecht Dürer’s most trusted employees.
At that time two other assistants worked in Dürer’s workshop, both named Hans, therefore Baldung, who preferred garments of green color, was given the nickname Grien (Franconian for grün (green)). Baldung had many talents and excelled in drawing, engraving, woodcutting and designs of tapestry and stained glass. He became one of the most outstanding figures in northern Renaissance art and was regarded by many as Dürer's artistic successor.
After moving to Halle on the Saale river in 1507, he received commissions to produce the altarpieces Epiphany, or Adoration of the Magi, and St. Sebastian (1507), which were later displayed in the Cathedral (Dom) there.
In 1509 Baldung was again drawn back to Strasbourg, where he founded his own workshop and married the daughter of a well-to-do family. Between 1512 and 1516 he worked in Freiburg creating the high altar of the Freiburg Minster (Freiburger Münster).Then in Strasbourg once more, an affluent and well respected artist, he was elected town councillor in 1545. He died in September of the same year.