He belonged to the lower nobility of Swabia, where he was born. After receiving a monastic education, he became retainer (Dienstmann) of a nobleman whose domain, Aue, has been identified with Obernau on the Neckar. He also took part in the Crusade of 1196-97. The date of his death is as uncertain as that of his birth; he is mentioned by Gottfried von Strassburg (c. 1210) as still alive, and in the Crône of Heinrich von dem Türlin, written about 1220, he is mourned for as dead.
Hartmann produced four narrative poems which are of importance for the evolution of the Middle High German court epic. The oldest of these, Erec, which may have been written as early as 1191 or 1192, and the latest, Iwein, belong to the Arthurian cycle and are based on epics by Chrétien de Troyes (Erec and Enide and Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, respectively); between them came the romance, Gregorius, also an adaptation of a French epic, and Der arme Heinrich, a charming specimen of medieval German poetry.
The theme of the latter--the cure of the leper, Heinrich, by a young girl who is willing to sacrifice her life for him--Hartmann had evidently found in the annals of the family in whose service he stood. His most conspicuous merit as a poet lies in his style; his language is carefully chosen, his narrative lucid, flowing and characterized by a sense of balance and proportion which is rarely to be found in German medieval poetry. Gregorius, Der arme Heinrich and his lyrics, which are all fervidly religious in tone, imply a tendency towards asceticism, but, on the whole, Hartmann's striving seems rather to have been to reconcile the extremes of life; to establish a middle way of human conduct between the worldly pursuits of knighthood and the ascetic ideals of medieval religion.
Erec has been edited by Moritz Haupt (2nd ed., Leipzig, 1871); Gregorius, by H Paul (2nd ed., Halle, 1900); Der arme Heinrich, by W Wackernagel and W Toischer (Basel, 1885) and by H Paul (2nd ed., Halle, 5893); by JG Robertson (London, 1895), with English notes; Iwein, by GF Benecke and K Lachmann (4th ed., Berlin, 1877) and E Henrici (Halle, 1891-1893). A convenient edition of all Hartmann's poems by F Bech, 3 vols. (3rd ed., Leipzig, 1891-1893, vol. 3 in 4th ed., 1902).
The literature on Hartmann is extensive. See especially L Schmid, Des Minnesingers Hartmann von Aue Stand, Heimat und Geschte (Tübingen, 1874); H Rötteken, Die epische Kunst Heinrichs von Veldeke und Hartmanns von Aue (Halle, 1887); F Saran, Hartmann von Aue als Lyriker (Halle, 1889); AE Schänbach, Uber Hartmann von Aue (Graz, J894); F Piquet, Etude sur hartmann d'Ane (Paris, 1898).
Translations have been made into modern German of all Hartmann's poems, while Der arme Heinrich has repeatedly attracted the attention of modern poets, both English (Longfellow, Rossetti) and German (notably, Gerhart Hauptmann). See Fl. Tardel, Der arme Heinrich in der neueren Dichtung (Berlin, 1905).