Jörg Breu the Elder, a weaver's son, came from humble origins in Augsburg, though he apprenticed to a leading Augsburg painter. As a journeyman in Austria from 1500 to 1502, Breu created three complex, multi-panel altarpieces. Among the earliest works of the Danube School, they reflect an innovative interest in nature's moods and in depicting landscape for its own sake.
In 1502 Breu settled in Augsburg, where he built a large workshop. Extremely versatile, he made history paintings and frescoes along with designing woodcuts and stained glass, usually with secular themes. Italianate ornament and chiaroscuro effects became increasingly apparent in his art, indicating that he probably traveled to Italy twice, once in about 1508 and again in 1514.
During the turmoil of the Reformation, Breu's sympathy for iconoclasm did not prevent him from painting altarpieces in the 1520s. He also painted huge organ shutters depicting Christ and the Virgin's ascensions to heaven for a chapel in Augsburg's Protestant church. His late style incorporated Mannerist elements such as violent gestures, turbulent folds of clothing, and strong colors. His son headed his workshop at his death.