From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- Note: The locations of paintings in this article are their location as of 1911.
In the Francken family of Antwerp in the 16th and 17th centuries were 11 painters. Many bore the same Christian name in succession. Hence there is confusion in the classification of paintings not differing widely in style or execution. When Frans Francken I found a rival in Frans Francken II, he described himself as "the elder" in contradistinction to his son, who signed himself "the younger". But when Frans the second was threatened with competition from Frans III he took the name of the elder, whilst Frans the third adopted that of Frans the younger.
The eldest of the Franckens, Nicholas of Herenthals, died at Antwerp in 1596, with nothing but the reputation of having been a painter. None of his works remain. He bequeathed his art to three children. '
The eldest son, Hieronymus Francken, after leaving his father's house studied under Frans Floris, to whom he afterwards served as an assistant, and wandered, about 1560, to Paris. In 1566 he was one of the masters employed to decorate the palace of Fontainebleau, and in 1574 he obtained the appointment of court painter from Henry III of France who had just returned from Poland and visited Titian at Venice. In 1603, when Van Mander wrote his biography of Flemish artists, Jerom Francken was still in Paris living in the then aristocratic Faubourg St. Germain. Among his earliest works is a notable a Nativity in the Dresden museum, executed in cooperation with Floris. Another of his important pieces is the Abdication of Charles V in the Amsterdam museum. Equally interesting is a Portrait of a Falconer, dated 1558, in the Brunswick gallery. In style these pieces all recall Floris.
Frans, the second son of Nicholas of Herenthals, is to be kept in memory as Frans Francken I. He was born about 1544, matriculated at Antwerp in 1567, and died there in 1616. He, too, studied under Floris, and never settled abroad, or lost the hard and gaudy style which he inherited from his master. Several of his pictures are in the museum of Antwerp; one dated 1597 in the Dresden museum represents Christ on the Road to Golgotha, and is signed by him as D.6 (Den ouden).
More specimens of the work of Ambrosius Francken I, the third son of Nicholas of Herenthals, remain than those of Hieronymus or Frans I. He first started as a partner with Hieronymus at Fontainebleau, then he returned to Antwerp, where he passed for his guild in 1573, and he lived at Antwerp till 1618. His best works are the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes and the Martyrdom of St. Crispin, both large and ambitious compositions in the Antwerp museum. In both these pieces a fair amount of power is displayed, but marred by want of atmosphere and shadow or by hardness of line and gaudiness of tone. There is not a trace in the three painters named of the influence of the revival which took place under the lead of Rubens.
Frans Francken I trained three sons to his profession, the eldest of whom, though he practised as a master of guild at Antwerp from 1600 to 1610, left no visible trace of his labors behind.
Hieronymus Francken II took service with his uncle Ambrosius. He was born in 1578, entered the guild in 1607, and in 1620 produced that curious picture of Horatius Cocles defending the Sublician Bridge which still hangs in the Antwerp museum.
The third son of Frans Francken I is Frans Francken II, who signed himself in pictures till 1616 as "the younger", from 1630 till his death the elder Frans Francken. These pictures are usually of small size cabinet paintings, and are found in considerable numbers in continental collections. Frans Francken II was born in 1581. In 1605 he entered the painters guild, of which he subsequently became the president, and in 1642 he died. His earliest composition is the Crucifixion in the Belvedere at Vienna, dated 1606. His latest compositions as the younger Frans Francken are the Adoration of the Virgin (1616) in the gallery of Amsterdam, and the Woman taken in Adultery (1628) in Dresden. From 1616 to 1630 many of his pieces are signed F. Francken; then come the Seven Works of Charity (1630) at Munich, signed the elder Frans Francken, the Prodigal Son (1633) at the Louvre, and other almost countless examples. It is in F. Francken II's style that we first have evidence of the struggle which necessarily arose when the old customs, hardened by Bernard van Orley and Floris, or Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Marten de Vos, were swept away by Rubens. But Frans Francken the Younger, as before observed, always clung to small surfaces; and though he gained some of the freedom of the moderns, he lost but little of the dryness or gaudiness of the earlier Italo-Flemish revivalists.
Frans Francken III, born 1607, is the last of his name who deserves to be recorded. He entered the Antwerp guild in 1639 and died at Antwerp in 1667. His practice was chiefly confined to adding figures to the architectural or landscape pieces of other artists. As Frans Pourbus sometimes put in the portrait figures for Frans Francken II, so Frans Francken III often introduced the necessary personages into the works of Pieter Neefs the Younger (museums of St. Petersburg, Dresden and the Hague). In a Moses striking the Rock, dated 1654, of the Augsburg gallery, this last of the Franckens signs D.6 (Den ouden) F. Franck. In the pictures of this artist are most clearly discernible the effects of Rubens's example.