About Frans Francken II
Antwerp 1581 – 1642 Antwerp
Important history painter of biblical and mythological subjects.
He also painted innovative subjects such as collector’s cabinet interiors or witches’ scenes.
Son and probably pupil of Frans Francken I.
Most important member of the Francken-family, which counted numerous painters over three generations.
In 1605 he became free master in the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke. In 1615 he was elected dean.
He was a very productive painter, who lead a large workshop, including his brothers and his sons. A lot of his workshop’s production, copies and routine replicas, was commissioned by dealers who exported them to Spain.
He often collaborated with other well-known painters, adding staffage figures in their landscapes or interior scenes.
Frans II started painting in a typical Mannerist style, strongly influenced by his uncle Hieronymus I, and gradually evolved under the influence of Rubens.
About the Crossing of the Red Sea
The Israelite escape from Egypt, led by Moses, is called the Exodus.
The people of Israel had lived as slaves in Egypt for 430 years. Its pharaoh was afraid that there were too many of them and he had ordered that the newborn boys would be thrown into the Nile. One woman had put her baby into a small reed boat and set it adrift. A princess, the daughter of the pharaoh, found the baby and brought Moses, as she called the baby, up.
God asked Moses to lead the Hebrew people into Canaan, the land he had promised to Abraham. After ten terrible plagues had hit Egypt Pharaoh accepted the release of the Israelites, but once they had left he pursued them with an army of chariots.
God separated the Red Sea so that the Israelites could cross it, walking on dry ground in between two walls of water. When they reached the other side the sea became normal again, thus drowning the entire Egyptian army.
About our painting
The righter most figure on dry land is Moses. At the order of God he lifts his staff, thus bringing down the waters of the Red Sea onto Pharaoh’s army.
In the upper centre one sees a sharp vertical light in the sky: God led the Israelites to Canaan by day with a pillar of cloud, by night with a pillar of fire. The drowning of the Egyptian army occurred at sunrise, with the pillar of fire still visible.
In the centre of the painting four men are looking at the mortal remains of Joseph, laying in a sarcophagus. Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, who had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, came to Egypt and ended as the Vizier or Viceroy of Egypt, after he had explained correctly to Pharaoh his disturbing dreams of the seven years of abundance and of famine. Joseph had told the Israelites ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place”.
Within the composition are several motifs taken from Italian art: for example, the two groups of mothers and children in the foreground:
- that on the left derives from Raphael's Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth (La Perla) in the Prado, Madrid;
- that on the right from Veronese's Saint Mark and Saint Marcelliano being led off to Martyrdom in the church of San Sebastiano, Venice.
There exist many versions of this successful composition of the Crossing of the Red Sea:
- the original, signed by Frans Francken II and dated 1621, is at Tyntesfield, a grand Victorian house in North Somerset, near Bristol;
- Francken must have painted some other versions of this inventive composition, some of them possibly with help of his workshop;
- other versions were painted entirely by Frans Francken II’s workshop: but as the market always wants names and attributions many of them are erroneously said to be by Frans Francken II himself, others are given to Hans Jordaens III;
- still other versions are (rightly or wrongly) attributed to other members of the Francken family.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is a nice, colourful version on copper of a true icon of seventeenth century Flemish painting.
Because you still remember the grand, epic movie from 1956 “The Ten Commandments” by Cecil B. DeMille.