Frans Francken the Younger

1581– Antwerp – 1642

Orpheus and Eurydice

Oil on panel, circular, 7¾ ins. (19.2 cm) in diameter
Framed: 10⅝ x 10⅝ ins. (27 x 27 cm)
VP4453

Provenance

Private collection, The Netherlands, until 2010
Anonymous sale, Christie’s, Amsterdam, 9 November 2010, lot 64. 


Notes

We are grateful to Dr. Ursula Härting for confirming the attribution to Frans Francken II on the basis of photographs.


Essay

The legendary Thracian poet and musician Orpheus was married to the wood nymph Eurydice.  One day, while fleeing from an unwelcome suitor, Eurydice trod on a venomous snake, was bitten and died.  Orpheus, who was inconsolable, resolved to descend into the Underworld to search for her.  With his sweet music, he succeeded in charming not only the monsters, but also the Gods of the Underworld, who agreed to allow Eurydice return to the land of the living, since he had shown such proof of his love.  However, they set one condition: Orpheus was to return to the world of light, followed by his wife, without looking back at her until they reached the light of day.  So Orpheus set out on the journey to the upper world, with Eurydice following behind, but as they reached the portals of Hades, Orpheus gave into his desire to look back at Eurydice, whereupon she died for a second time and vanished forever into the shades of the Underworld.

In this small roundel, Frans Francken shows Orpheus playing a lute, while the dancing figure of Death takes the weeping Eurydice by the hand.  An hourglass standing on a stool alludes to the transience of life.  In general conception, the painting takes its inspiration from Hans Holbein the Younger’s famous Dance of Death series published in 1538.  Each of Holbein’s forty-nine woodcuts depicts a little scene, in which the figure of Death intervenes in the everyday lives of his victims, in a similar manner to the skeleton in our painting.  Francken also draws upon the same iconography in a small group of paintings which depict Death playing the violin to a man seated at a table[i] (for example, Fig. 2)[ii]


BIOGRAPHY

The most productive and illustrious scion of the Francken family of artists, Frans Francken the Younger was born in Antwerp in 1581.  He is presumed to have served his apprenticeship in the studio of his father, Frans Francken I, but also probably trained in Paris with his uncle, Hieronymous I.  In 1605, Frans II became a master of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke and, in 1615, he was elected Dean.  In 1607, he married Elisabeth Placquet by whom he had seven children.  Documents reveal that he worked directly for the art dealer, Christian van Immerzeel and, although he only registered one apprentice in the Guild, he certainly had other assistants including his brothers and sons.  His greatest skill was as a figure painter and he collaborated with at least twenty of the leading landscape, still life and architectural painters of the day including Abraham Govaerts, Joos de Momper II, Tobias Verhaecht, Bartholomeus van Bassen, Pieter Neefs I and II, Hendrick van Steenwijck and Paul Vredeman de Vries.  He died on 6 May 1642 and was buried in the Church of St. Andrea in Antwerp. 

Although several large altarpieces exist, Francken painted predominantly small-scale cabinet pictures with religious, mythological or allegorical themes.  He is also remembered for the innovations he made in certain types of subject matter.  He was probably the first to depict the interiors of art galleries (kunstkammern or cabinets d’amateurs) which later became popular with artists and collectors alike.  He is also thought to have invented the subject known as the ‘monkeys’ kitchen’ which was subsequently developed by David Teniers the Younger and Jan van Kessel. 




[i] For example, Frans Francken II, Death playing the Violin, copper, 16.5 x 13 cm, Göttingen, Kunstsammlungen der Universität.
[ii] U. Härting, Frans Francken II, 1989, Cat. Nos. 397-404. 


Biography
The most productive and illustrious scion of the Francken family of artists, Frans Francken the Younger was born in Antwerp in 1581.  He is presumed to have served his apprenticeship in the studio of his father, Frans Francken I, but also probably trained in Paris with his uncle, Hieronymous I.  In 1605, Frans II became a master of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke and, in 1615, he was elected Dean.  In 1607, he married Elisabeth Placquet by whom he had seven children.  Documents reveal that he worked directly for the art dealer, Christian van Immerzeel and, although he only registered one apprentice in the Guild, he certainly had other assistants including his brothers and sons.  His greatest skill was as a figure painter and he collaborated with at least twenty of the leading landscape, still life and architectural painters of the day including Jan Brueghel the Younger, Abraham Govaerts, Joos de Momper II, Tobias Verhaecht, Bartholomeus van Bassen, Pieter Neefs I and II, Hendrick van Steenwijck and Paul Vredeman de Vries.  He died on 6 May 1642 and was buried in the Church of St. Andrea in Antwerp.