Baldung und Dürer

Bequest of a lock of hair

A blonde lock of hair (supposedly) of Albrecht Dürer is amongst the eye-catching exhibits of Hans Baldung Grien. Sacred | Profane.

This lock of hair was discovered in Hans Baldung’s estate and is regarded as an “artistic bequest” made by Dürer to his former pupil.

Image of Sebald Büheler: Dürer’s lock of hair, 1559–1871 (mounting by Edward von Steinles, about 1871), borrowed from Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der Bildenden Künste Vienna.

It was not uncommon at the time to have a lock of hair as a keepsake, or to give it to a protégé who was to follow in one’s footsteps. Hans Baldung and Albrecht Dürer apparently maintained a friendship over many years.

Baldung trained at Dürer’s workshop in Nuremberg between 1503 and 1508 and, a dozen years later, the master mentioned “Grünhans”, (his former pupil), in the diary he wrote on a journey to the Netherlands. This is probably how Baldung acquired his nickname “Grien”, a reference to “green” (grün) from “Grünhans”.

Image of Sebald Büheler: Document describing the provenance of Dürer’s lock of hair, 1559–1871 (mounting by Edward von Steinles, about 1871), borrowed from Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der Bildenden Künste Vienna.

The lock of hair was presumably sent to Baldung after Dürer’s death in 1528. It is unclear whether the keepsake was given as a last wish of the artist himself, or at the discretion of relatives or members of his workshop.

A letter accompanying the lock of hair reveals a list of previous owners, so tracing the provenance and attesting to its genuine nature. At the top left margin, the name “Albrecht Dürer” is followed by “Hans Baldung”.

Bromance or Fremenies?

Hans Baldung was famous during his lifetime but he progressively fell into oblivion. By contrast, Albrecht Dürer, who also enjoyed a great reputation in the 16th century, was always considered as a leading German artist of the Renaissance.

Both artists frequently treated the same subjects in their works, but although the pupil was influenced by the master, he gradually developed his own style. And even if the lock of hair might be regarded as a symbol of the artists’ friendship, it provides no answers about their potential rivalry.

For example, Dürer’s talent for copperplate engraving surpassed that of his pupil. And as Baldung became aware of this …

Image of Albrecht Dürer : Saint Jérôme dans le désert, vers 1496

… he concentrated on woodcuts and proved an exceptionally gifted artist using this technique.

Image of Hans Baldung Grien: Saint Jerome Penitent, around 1511, borrowed from Hamburger Kunsthalle.