1581 - 1642
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Frans Francken II or the Younger is the third in order of descent in the Francken family tree. Born in 1581, the son of Frans Francken I or the Elder, he was the brother of Thomas, born in 1574, of Hieronymous II, born in 1578 and died in 1623, and of Ambrosius II, the last in line, who died in 1632. Hieronymous II, who died at the age of 56, is only known for his painting Horatius Cocles at Sublicius Bridge. Frans the Younger was initially a pupil of his father, who was then at the height of his career. In his father’s studio he imbibed all the teaching of the tradition of Frans Floris. He also spent long periods in Italy, where he familiarised himself in particular with the masters of the Venetian school. Such study in situ enabled him to break away from the well-worn methods of Flemish Italianism, as practised by his father and uncles. It is conceivable that the young artist met Rubens, who was in Italy at the time.
In 1605, at the age of 24, on his return to Antwerp, Frans the Younger became a master in the Antwerp Guild of St Luke. In 1607 he married Elisabeth Placquet in Antwerp. Three sons and eight daughters resulted from this marriage. His children made up the fourth generation in the dynasty. Better known are Frans III (1607-1667) and Hieronymus, born in 1611. The latter had a son, Constantinus (1661-1717), who marks the end of the line. The family of Francken painters runs from 1520 to 1717.
As one of the most active masters in Antwerp, Frans II was appointed dean of the guild in 1614. He was also a member of the Violette, a major literary association, for which he painted an award-winning symbolic coat of arms. He was intimate with the most celebrated artists, in particular van Dyck, who executed a very fine portrait of him, judging by the engraving by Willem Hondius and Pieter de Jode. It is also likely that he was on familiar terms with Rubens who was his near contemporary. He died in Antwerp on 6 May 1642 at the age of 61, outlived by both Rubens and van Dyck.
The first securely dated work of Frans the Younger is Christ on the Cross from the gallery in Vienna, painted in 1606. Witches’ Sabbath (Vienna) and The Works of Mercy (Antwerp) are dated 1607 and 1608 respectively. In these two latter works the painter proves himself adept at painting figures and allegorical scenes. The Works of Mercy represents various groups of figures, symbolising the different activities inspired by Christian charity. Paupers and beggars occupy the foreground, the ensemble being dominated by the figure of the glorious Christ.
While Frans the Younger cannot be compared with the masters of this great first generation of Antwerp, which was illuminated and steered by the genius of Rubens, he does nevertheless merit attention. He succeeded in developing and bringing into fashion an anecdotal genre on a more modest scale, elements of which were to inform the last representatives of the Francken family for over a century. Frans the Younger was undoubtedly the most talented draughtsman in the family. While his art may be criticised for its lack of grandeur and solemnity, the execution shows great talent. His brush stroke was vigorous and his imagination, albeit restrained, was brilliant. His interest in tonal values was highlighted by his study and appreciation of his remarkable contemporaries. This enabled him to carry out landscapes and also fleshy figures, which made him altogether worthy of the brilliant period to which he belonged. While detail certainly preoccupied him, he treated it with intelligence and even esprit, as witnessed in The Parable of the Prodigal Son and A Prince’s Visit to the Treasury of a Church (both in the Louvre). The scenes painted in grisaille, which surround the principal motif of the Prodigal Son, are characteristic of his style. He excelled in painting jewellery, ornaments, and textiles with shot silk effects. A large number of his figures inhabit the neutral backgrounds of the interiors of apartments and galleries. He carried out such work not only under his own auspices, but also for other artists, such as Peeter Neeffs, van Bassen, Josse de Momper, and Breughel.