The Colour Green

Grien, Grün, Green

Baldung’s nickname “Grien” originates from the adjective grün (German for “green”). Several historical records, including a travel journal kept by Albrecht Dürer, refer to “Grünhanssen” and “Hans Grun”.

Hans Baldung is said to have acquired the nickname “Grien” while he worked in Albrecht Dürer’s workshop in Nuremberg. Possible reasons for this are:

  • Two other contemporary artists named Hans, Hans Kulmbach and Hans Schäufelin, were active at Dürer’s workshop at the same time. This nickname was a way of distinguishing between them.
  • Baldung was inclined to wear green attire for festive celebrations.
  • Baldung followed the convention of German Renaissance artists who applied vivid colour to their drawing paper. Baldung’s Self-Portrait of Youth, for example, is on green paper.
  • It is unlikely that the nickname “Grien” implies “green behind the ears”, since Baldung was probably not the most junior of Dürer’s apprentices.
  • Baldung used to sign his works with his initials and a (spring green) vine-leaf – perhaps a humorous play on his nickname. His monogram, “HBG”, includes the initial letters of his first name and surname (“HB”), and an extra G for Grien.

50 Shades of Green

The Karlsruhe Sketchbook comprises more than 100 drawings by Hans Baldung Grien, some of them with colour indications, especially for various shades of green:

    • grien = green
    • gel-grien = yellow-green
    • gelgrie = yellow-green
    • schögrie = fine green
    • grogrie = grey-green
    • schwitzergrie = Swiss green
    • jegergrie = hunter’s green
    • dunkel grien = dark grien

On this drawing of an exotic bird, for example, the head was to be coloured green, as evidenced by the word “grien” written by the artist.

Image of a drawing of a Parrot by Hans Baldung Grien, taken from his Karlsruher Sketchbook.

A Changing Colour

Green is a colour that we associate today with ecological awareness, well-being and nature. Green is a symbol of hope or happiness. On the other hand, green – as the saying goes – is the colour of envy, sickness or harm. Such contrasts point to symbolic shifts of meaning and changing values. Moreover, green is chemically unstable and tends to discolouration over time, so that it is considered the colour of metamorphosis.

Green through the Ages

While ancient Egyptians thought green was instilled with protective powers to ward off dark forces, the Romans considered green – and blue – as the colour of the barbarians, since the Celts and Germanic tribes often wore green clothing. In the High Middle Ages green again took on a positive connotation as an expression of chivalry.

By the late Middle Ages, green was associated with joy and beauty. Yet, perhaps due to the enhanced value attributed to blue as a noble and precious colour, green again acquired a negative connotation as it was associated with sorcery, demons, witches and poison.