FRANCKEN. Eleven painters of this family cultivated their art in Antwerp during the 16th and 17th centuries. Several of these were related to each other, whilst many bore the same Christian name in succession. Hence unavoidable confusion in the subsequent classification of paintings not widely differing in style or execution. When Franz Francken the first found a rival in Franz Francken the second, he described himself as the “elder,” in contradistinction to his son, who signed himself the “younger.” But when Franz the second was threatened with competition from Franz the third, he took the name of “the elder,” whilst Franz the third adopted that of Franz “the younger.”
It is possible, though not by any means easy, to sift the works of these artists. 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. Jerom Francken, the eldest son, after leaving his father’s house, studied under Franz Floris, 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., 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 we should distinguish a “Nativity” in the Dresden museum, executed in co-operation with Franz 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 Franz Floris. Franz, the second son of Nicholas of Herenthals, is to be kept in memory as Franz Francken the first. 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. õ (Den ouden) F. Franck. Ambrose, the third son of Nicholas of Herenthals, has bequeathed to us more specimens of his skill than Jerom or Franz the first. He first started as a partner with Jerom at Fontainebleau, then he returned to Antwerp, where he passed for his gild 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. Franz Francken the first trained three sons to his profession, the eldest of whom, though he practised as a master of gild at Antwerp from 1600 to 1610, left no visible trace of his labours behind. Jerom the second took service with his uncle Ambrose. He was born in 1578, passed for his gild 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 Franz Francken the first is Franz Francken the second, who signed himself in pictures till 1616 “the younger,” from 1630 till his death “the elder” F. Francken. These pictures are usually of a small size, and are found in considerable numbers in continental collections. Franz Francken the second was born in 1581. In 1605 he entered the gild, 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” F. 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 F. F.,” the “Prodigal Son” (1633) at the Louvre, and other almost countless examples. It is in F. Francken the second’s style that we first have evidence of the struggle which necessarily arose when the old customs, hardened by Van Orley and Floris, or Breughel and De Vos, were swept away by Rubens. But F. Francken the second, 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. F. Francken the third, the last of his name who deserves to be recorded, passed in the Antwerp gild 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 Franz Pourbus sometimes put in the portrait figures for Franz Francken the second, so Franz Francken the third 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. õ (Den ouden) F. Franck. In the pictures of this artist we most clearly discern the effects of Rubens’s example.