This intricate composition on a large copper plate is typical of the workshop practices in Antwerp during the second quarter of the 17th century: the two brothers, Frans III and Hieronymus III, worked together on it, while their father and head of the workshop Frans II, gave his finishing touch to the painting. The left and centre part of the composition go back to a signed painting by Frans Francken II, sold at Christie’s London in 1999 and dating from the last decennium that Frans II was active (he died in 1642), when Frans III (and thereafter Hieronymus III) had joined him in his studio.
During the Baroque period collectors loved having such a sensual paintings in their private homes, be it under the moral excuse of a biblical or mythological subject. Other ‘stimulating’ motifs were of course often linked to women bathing: King David spying onto Bathsheba, the two elder judges making dishonorable proposals to Susanna, Diana and her nymphs, etc.
Our panoramic composition reads like a cartoon: several elements of the story of Lot and his daughters are highlighted.
About Lot and his daughters
The story of Lot, a nephew of Abraham, is told in the first book of the Ancient Testament, the Book of Genesis, in chapters 18 and 19.
God informed Abraham that he planned to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for the grave sins of their inhabitants. Abraham pleaded with God not to kill all the inhabitants for there should be some righteous people amongst them: 50, 45, 30, maybe 20, finally the Lord settled for 10.
God sent two angels to Sodom. They arrived there in th evening and Abraham’s nephew Lot, in fact the only ‘good’ man in the town, offered them hospitality and food. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom - both young and old - surrounded the house. They called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.’ Lot went outside and proposed them his two daughters who have never slept with a man, for he did not want them to hurt these men, for they had come under the protection of his roof. The male inhabitants of Sodom kept insisting that he would bring the two strangers, so the two angels struck all of them with blindness.
The next morning the angels led Lot, his wife and his two daughters out of the sinful town. God told them not to look back on their way to the nearby town of Zoar while He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with a burning rain of sulfur. But Lot’s wife looked back and she was changed into a pillar of salt.
Lot and his daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, living in a cave. One day the older daughter said to the younger, ‘Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children… Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.’ They did so during the next two nights, while Lot, who was completely drunk, was unaware of what happened. Both daughters had a son, these were to be the fathers of the Moabites and of the Ammonites.
About our painting
Our painters have condensed several elements of the story of Lot in one panoramic view. In the background, along the River Jordan, the two towns of Sodom and Gomorrah are being destroyed by the wrath of God.
The few houses at right must represent Zoar, where Lot first fled to, before leaving for the mountains. Its scanty population, panicked by the events, was not harmed by God.
At left the two angels lead Lot and his two daughters through a natural arch in a mountainous landscape away from Sodom.
At the centre in the foreground one of the daughters, the other one is asleep, is giving her father, Lot, a glass of wine.
According to Dr. Ursula Härting Frans III painted the typical elongated figures at left, with Lot and his daughters being led away by the two angels.
Typical of Hieronymus III are the round shouldered figures in the centre (Lot drinking with one daughter, the second one sleeping) and his bright, radiant colours.
Finally Frans II, the father of Frans III and of Hieronymus III who was leading the workshop, finished the painting: according to Dr. Ursula Härting he painted the still life on the table and touched up the turban of the figure of Lot at the centre.
The left and centre part of our composition go back to a signed painting by Frans Francken II, sold at Christie’s London 17/12/99 and dating from the last decennium that Frans II was active, when Frans III (and thereafter Hieronymus III) had joined him in his studio, circa 1628/1630. Frans II died in 1642.
As to the composition of that painting sold at Christie’s in its turn it goes back to an older painting by Frans II, dating from the mid-1620s, from the Prado at Madrid. Frans II used the type of signature that we find on this painting between 1616 and 1628/30.
In these two elder versions the figure of Lot’s wife, who is looking back at the destruction of the towns, is still included at left in the composition.
All three versions, the one from the Prado, the one sold at Christie’s, and ours were painted on copper plates. Our painting and the Prado one share very similar dimensions, the Christie’s one being a bit smaller.
About paintings on copper plates
Seventeenth and eighteenth century Flemish (and Dutch) artists painted on oak panels, on canvasses and on copper plates. 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, copper plates 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, many 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 Francken family
The brothers Frans III and Hieronymus III belonged to an important family of painters in Antwerp, divided over five generation:
1. none of the paintings of Nicolas Francken (circa 1510/20 – 1596) have survived;
2. three of his sons were painters: Hieronymus I, Frans I and Ambrosius I;
3. four sons of Frans I also became painters: Thomas, Hieronymus II, Frans II (best-known member of the family and father of our two painters) and Ambrosius II;
4. three sons of Frans II were painters: our Frans III, our Hieronymus III and Ambrosius III;
5. finally for Constantyn Francken, son of our Hieronymus III, his father died too young to give him lessons in painting.
Not only the sons of Frans II, but also his brothers, had at some stage been active in the workshop of Frans II.
About the signatures used by Frans Francken II and about the date of Frans II's versions of Lot and his daughters
Frans Francken II used three types of signature :
- ‘D.J. f.franck’ (‘dj’ stands for ‘de jonge’, that is ‘the younger’).
Frans Francken II saw himself as the younger, while his father, Frans I (1542 – 1616) whom he then saw as the elder, was still alive and working; he used this signature until 1616.
- ‘f.francken’ or ‘ffranck’ after his father’s death in 1616.
- ‘D.O. f.franck’ (‘d.o.’ stands for ‘de oude’, that is ‘the elder’).
Frans II used this signature once his son, Frans III, started painting, circa 1628/1630, until his death in 1642.
The second version of “Lot and his daughters” by Frans Francken II, sold at Christie’s in London is signed “Do ffranck IN”:
- as he used his last type of signature here this painting must date between circa 1628/1630 and 1642;
- the “IN” stands for “inventor”: Francken invented this composition himself and was proud enough to mention it.
The signature on the first version of “Lot and his daughters” by Frans Francken II, from the Prado in Madrid reads “ffranck”. He used that signature between 1616 and 1628/1630.
About Frans Francken III
Antwerp 1607 -1667 Antwerp
Pupil and later assistant of his father, Frans II Francken.
Master in the Painter’s Huild of Saint Luke in Antwerp in the year 1639/1640.
Versatile painter of (flower) still lifes, genre scenes, portraits and collector’s interiors. He was also active as a staffage painter (painting the figures in the church interiors of Pieter I and II Neefs, just as his father had done).
About Hieronymus Francken III
Antwerp 1611 – after 1661
Painter of religious subjects.
Pupil of his father, Frans II (Antwerp 1581 – 1642 Antwerp). Frans II was an important history painter of biblical, mythological and allegorical subjects. He also painted altar scenes and innovative subjects such as collector’s cabinet interiors or witches’ scenes.
Only two signed and not really typical works are known by him:
- an early work from the National Gallery of Oslo;
- a huge painting at the church of Saint Andrew in Balen.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because this beautiful composition is an excellent example of the art of the Francken family, produced under the direct supervision of Frans II.