Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hans Baldung

Hans Baldung Self-portrait, 1526
Very often writers spend a great deal of time and ink discussing and illuminating the lives of great artists while paying very little attention to one important aspect of their careers--their legacies. By that I mean those whom an artist influences, and more specifically, the work of younger artists he or she may have taught. For example, most people know all they want to know about the life and times and work of Albrecht Durer. Of course, such knowledge often starts ends with his iconic Praying Hands with perhaps a side trip into his messianic self-portraits. That's unfortunate and as a writer of art past and present, I have to assume some responsibility for this understatement. However, let me take this time to deal not with Durer, but instead, his most notable pupil, Hans Baldung.

Witches Sabbath, woodcut, 1510,
Hans Baldung
Hans Baldung was born in 1484 in Swabia, Germany, into an upper middle-class family of professionals, the son of a lawyer, the nephew of a doctor. He was, in fact, the first male member of the family not to attend a university. Instead, around 1503, Hans chose to become the apprentice of the most outstanding artist then working in German, Albrecht Durer. There he picked up the nickname Grien (green), based apparently upon his favorite color, not to mention the fact that there were three others named Hans apprenticed too Durer at the time. In any case, he seems to have bested them all, becoming a longtime friend and protégé of his master. Durer even acted as his agent, selling prints by Baldung. With Durer's death in 1528, Baldung veered off, departing from his teacher's subject matter if not his style, delving repeatedly into sorcery, witchcraft, and death. His work ranged from the merely gruesome to the horrific. His Witch's Sabbath (left) from 1510, in fact, suggests the artist's interest in such content even before Durer's death. In reviewing some of Durer's prints from the same period, it's possible Baldung's illustrious mentor may, in fact, have inspired such interests.
Three Ages of Man and Death,
1543, Hans Baldung 
Whatever the case, there is a stench of death and the fragility of life in much of Baldung's later work. Keep in mind, both he and Durer lived during the time of the "black death" when Bubonic plague intermittently ravaged much of Europe. One of his best works, his Three Ages of Man and Death (left) from 1543 is typical. Despite the title, it depicts a nude woman. He seems to have corrected this error in a similar work later, Seven Ages of Woman. Mingled amongst these were the standard painter's cash cows of that period, portraits (often somewhat strange looking), mythology, Madonnas, private devotional works, altarpieces and, in Baldung's case, quite a number of stained glass windows. Very often, even his religious works seem to be thinly disguised opportunities to depict socially acceptable female nudes, one of the strangest, perhaps, being his so-called Dagger Madonna (below).

Dagger Madonna, early 1500s,
Hans Baldung


No comments:

Post a Comment