Frans Francken the Elder

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Frans Francken by Rubens

Frans Francken I or Frans Francken the Elder (1542, Herentals – 1616, Antwerp) was a Flemish painter who was one of the principal painters in Antwerp during the Counter-Reformation.[1] He is mainly known for his large altarpieces and allegorical paintings. He was a member of the Francken dynasty of painters that played an important role in the Antwerp art scene in the 17th century.


The Battle of Time against Death

Francken was born in Herentals as the son of Nicholas Francken, an obscure painter from Herentals.[2] His father later settled in Antwerp and was likely his first teacher. He became a master of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1567 and was its deacon in 1587.[1] His younger brothers Hieronymus Francken I and Ambrosius Francken I both became successful painters. The early biographer Karel van Mander stated that Frans Francken the Elder was a pupil of the leading Antwerp Mannerist painter Frans Floris.[3]

In 1571 he collaborated with his older brother Hieronymus on a large Adoration of the Magi triptych (Brussels, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and London, Brompton Oratory) which bears his monogram as well as that of his younger brother Frans. The brothers included self-portraits in profile: Hieronymus on the left side and Frans on the right side of the triptych.[4]

Frans Francken married Elisabeth Mertens. At the time of his death in 1619 their surviving children were Thomas, Frans, Hieronymus, Ambrosius II, Magdalena and Elisabeth.[5]

His pupils included his son Frans, Gortzius Geldorp, Herman van der Mast and Jan de Wael.[5]


Allegory, the Ship of State

Frans Francken the Elder worked mainly on altar pieces as there was a great demand for such works as a result of the iconoclasm of the Calvinists. His masterpiece is a triptych entitled Christ among the Scribes, which was made for the Antwerp Cathedral in 1587. The figures are rather wooden in the late Mannerist style. However, the heads show the artist’s skill for portraiture. Frans Francken I was also a portrait painter and a few court portraits have been attributed to him.[1]

His earliest paintings were in the style of Frans Floris but after 1600 he developed his own style which displayed classicising characteristics not unlike those in the work of Otto van Veen.[6]

Frans Francken the Elder painted small-scale cabinet pictures, a genre in which his sons Frans and Hieronymus would excel.[1] He was further known for his allegorical paintings and his son Frans would continue this tradition. An example of an allegorical painting is The Battle of Time against Death in the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen.

Family tree[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Ursula Härting. "Francken." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 10 May. 2014
  2. ^ Christa Grössinger, North-European panel paintings: catalogue of Netherlandish & German paintings before 1600 in English churches & colleges, Harvey Miller, 1992, p. 263
  3. ^ Frans Francken in Karel van Mander's Schilder-boeck, 1604 (in Dutch)
  4. ^ Peeters, Natasja, Connecting people : documenting the activities of the Antwerp painter Hieronymus Francken, and other Floris disciples, in Paris after 1566, in: Les échanges artistiques entre les anciens Pays-Bas et la France, 1482 - 1814 : actes du colloque international organisé par l'Institut de recherches historiques du Septentrion - UMR CNRS 8529 - Université de Lille 3 au Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille les 28-29-30 mai 2008 (2010) , 117-128
  5. ^ a b Frans Francken (I) at the Netherlands Institute for Art History (in Dutch)
  6. ^ Franks Francken I, in: Walter A. Liedtke, Flemish Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1984, p. 224

External links[edit]