Hans Rottenhammer was born in 1564, the son of Thomas Rottenhammer, Master of the Horse to the Munich court. From 1582 to 1588 Hans Rottenhammer served an apprenticeship under the Munich painter Hans Donauer the Elder and then went to Italy. Rottenhammer's travels took him to Rome (1590-96) and later to Venice (from 1596). In Rome Rottenhammer came into contact with the "Bamboccianti", as the circle of young painters from Flanders and Holland was known, and especially to Paul Bril and Jan Bruegel the Elder, and collaborated closely with them.
In Venice Hans Rottenhammer was influenced by the work of Tintoretto and Veronese. From 1600 Rottenhammer had contacts at the Prague court of the Emperor Rudolf II, who commissioned a "Feast of the Gods" from him and used him as an agent to negotiate the acquisition of Venetian painting. In 1606 Rottenhammer returned to Bavaria and was given the freedom of the city and the right to call himself master in Augsburg.
Rottenhammer was summoned to the court of Prince Ernst, Count Holstein-Schaumburg, in 1609. There he worked on decorating the "Goldener Saal in Schloss Bückeborg", for which he executed four ceiling paintings featuring allegorical representations of the four elements. In 1613, however, Rottenhammer broke with his patron.
The last years of Rottenhammer's life were marked by a noticeable decline in productivity, which was probably due to stiffer competition from other Augsburg artists. Hans Rottenhammer's importance to German art history is his reception of the essentials of late Cinquecento Venetian composition, which he translated into the small format of the cabinet picture as its first exponent in Germany. Rottenhammer's handling of landscape, on the other hand, reveals northern influences.
Usually painted on copper, his mythological or religious pictures continued to be highly appreciated on into the 18th century. Rottenhammer also executed large altarpieces for churches in Munich and Augsburg as well as decorative frescoes for the Munich Residenz. His late work anticipates elements of Classicism.