On its backside our copper plate is signed by Peeter Stas and dated 1608. Hieronymus Francken II was then aged thirty and still sharing a studio with his better-known brother Frans II. According to the Francken specialist Dr. Ursula Härting an unidentified assistant participated in the production of our painting, which was a common habit amongst Antwerp painters.
This composition represents two scenes from the Parable of the Prodigal Son: he is spending thoughtlessly all his money at a brothel, but when he is broke he is thrown out of the establishment (in the upper left corner).
At right one has the most interesting view of a clavichord with its open lid decorated with a painted river landscape.
About Hieronymus Francken II
Antwerp 1578 – 1623 Antwerp
Painter of genre scenes, biblical scenes and picture galleries, also of some still lifes and portraits.
Son of Frans Francken I (1542 – 1616). Frans I had many children. Three years after his death six were still alive, four men who were all four painters, and two women.
Hieronymus the Younger studied painting with his father until 1605 and then with his uncle Ambrosius I (1544/45 – 1618). He joined the Painter’s Guild of Saint Luke in his birthplace Antwerp in 1607. He remained active here until his death.
Member of the Francken-family, which counted many painters over five generations:
- none of the paintings of Nicolas Francken (circa 1510/20 – 1596) have survived;
- three of his sons were painters: Hieronymus I, Frans I and Ambrosius I;
- four sons of Frans I also became painters: Thomas, our Hieronymus II, Frans II (the best-known member of the family) and Ambrosius II;
- three sons of Frans II were painters: Frans III, Hieronymus III and Ambrosius III;
- finally for Constantyn Francken, son of our Hieronymus III, his father died too young to give him lessons in painting.
Hiëronymus II remained unmarried. His early works and those of his young brother Frans II ((1581 – 1642) are often confounded. Hieronymus II must have worked in the studio of Frans II. At their father’s death in 1616 he carried on his father’s workshop. He died seven years later.
About the subject of our painting, The Parable of the Prodigal Son
The Prodigal Son, also known as the Lost Son, is one of the best known Parables of Jesus. It appears only in the Gospel of Luke (15:11-32), in the New Testament of the Bible. It is the third and final subject of a trilogy, following the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin.
The youngest of two sons asks his father for his share of his future inheritance. He goes abroad, lives a loose life, squanders all his money in brothels and finally has to work completely impoverished as a swineherd. When he has lost everything he comes to his senses and goes back home. To the utter astonishment of his brother his father receives him more than well. At the jealous remarks of the older brother the father answers that all he has will remain his, but that he is so happy now for he had thought he had lost that youngest son for ever.
At right a young woman plays a clavichord. In those days probably the best clavichords in the world were designed in Antwerp by the sons of Hans Ruckers, Joannes and Andreas.
About paintings on copper
Seventeenth and eighteenth century Flemish (and Dutch) artists painted on oak panels, on canvas and on copper. Copper was the most expensive, but also the best support. Wooden panels can suffer from sudden changes in the degree of humidity, canvasses can be torn, while copper plates are less vulnerable.
Because of their even, highly rigid and non-absorbent surface, coppers did not need a preparatory layer (sometimes only a very thin ground) and one can paint extremely precisely, the paint could be applied almost without any visible brushstrokes. In old recipes it was advised to rub the copper plate with garlic, so that the oil paint would adhere better.
As copper was more expensive and as one could paint in a very detailed way on them, most copper plates are therefore of rather small dimensions. Artists painted on copper delicate, elaborate and highly finished paintings with brilliant pictorial effects, carefully rendering the details of physiognomy and of dress. Another advantage of these copper plates today is the fact that they have very little craquelure.
About the three punch marks on our copper plate
On the backside of our copper plate one finds three punch marks:
- the small Antwerp hand;
- the date of 1608
- the mark of Peeter Stas.
The symbol of the hand comes from an old myth: a giant called Druoon Antigoon lived near a curve in the river Scheldt. He would get a tribute from every passing ship. If not he used to cut the hand of the shipper. This situation came to an end when the Roman soldier Silvius Brabo killed the giant and threw his hand in the river. It was thought wrongly that the name “Antwerpen” came from this “hand werpen”, which means “to throw the hand”.
In an article on ‘Antwerp Copper Plates’ in the Phoenix Art Museum exhibition entitled ‘Copper as Canvas’ (1999, P. 93 – 116) Jorgen Wadum stated that 80 painted copper plates produced by Peeter Stas (circa 1565 – after 1616) were then known. Of these half were dated. Stas added the Antwerp hand in 1608 to his punch mark. Stas seems to have been the most prolific producer of copper plates at that time. In 1602 twenty-five master coppersmiths were recorded in Antwerp.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because this amorous banquet scene holds a sumptuous view of a magnificent clavichord. Its design and decoration must have been inspired by the instruments produced by the Ruckers family of Antwerp.