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Note: The locations of paintings in this article are their location as of 1911.

In the Francken family of Antwerp in the 16th and 17th centuries there were 3 generations of painters with the same Christian names of Frans, Hieronymous, or Ambrosius. At the time, this was an effective sales method for ensuring continuity of the family business, but today's legacy is some confusion in the classification of paintings not differing widely in style or execution. When Frans I's son Frans II reached his majority and began to sign paintings, Frans I described himself as "the elder" in contradistinction to his son, who signed himself "the younger". But this happened again in the next generation when Frans II's son Frans III reached his majority; Frans II took the name of the elder, whilst Frans III adopted that of Frans the younger.

Family tree[edit]

Nicolaes Francken 1515–1596
Hieronymous Francken I 1540–1610
Frans Francken I 1542–1616
Ambrosius Francken I 1544–1618
(Cornelius Francken)
Isabella Francken
Thomas Francken 1574–1625
Hieronymous Francken II 1578–1623
Frans Francken II 1581–1642
Ambrosius Francken II 1590–1632
Hans Francken 1581–after 1610
Frans Francken III 1607–1667
Hieronymous Francken III 1611–after 1661
Ambrosius Francken III 1614–1662
Constantijn Francken 1661–1717

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.

The eldest son, Hieronymus I, after leaving his father's house studied under Frans Floris, to whom he afterwards served as an assistant, and subsequently travelled to Paris in 1560. In 1566 he was one of the masters employed to decorate the palace of Fontainebleau, and in 1574 he became court painter to Henry III of France who had just returned from Poland and visited Titian at Venice. In 1603, when Van Mander wrote his biography of Flemish artists, Hieronymous (or Jerom) was still in Paris living in the then aristocratic Faubourg St. Germain. Among his earliest works is a notable Nativity in the Dresden museum, executed in cooperation with 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 Floris.

Frans I, the second son of Nicholas of Herenthals, 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.6 (Den ouden).

More works survive from Ambrosius I, the third son of Nicholas of Herenthals. He first started as a partner with Hieronymus at Fontainebleau, then he returned to Antwerp, where he became master in the guild in 1573, and he lived there until 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.

Frans I trained three sons to his profession, the eldest of whom, though he practised as a master of the guild at Antwerp from 1600 to 1610, left no visible trace of his labors behind.

Hieronymus II took service with his uncle Ambrosius I. He was born in 1578, entered the guild in 1607, and in 1620 produced that curious picture of Horatius Cocles defending the Sublician Bridge which still hangs in the Antwerp museum.

The Last Judgement, by Hieronymus Francken II, c. 1610.

The third son of Frans I was Frans II, who is the most famous Francken of the family. He signed himself in pictures up to 1616 as "the younger", and from 1630 until his death as "the elder". These pictures are usually small size cabinet paintings, and are found in considerable numbers in continental collections. Frans II was born in 1581. In 1605 he entered the painters guild, of which he subsequently became dean, and in 1642 he died. His earliest composition is the Crucifixion in the Belvedere at Vienna, dated 1606. His latest compositions as the younger Frans 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 Frans Francken, the Prodigal Son (1633) at the Louvre, and other almost countless examples. It is in Frans II's style that we first have evidence of the struggle which necessarily arose when the old customs, established by Bernard van Orley and Floris, or Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Marten de Vos, were swept away by Rubens. But Frans II, as before observed, always clung to small dimensions; and though he gained some of the freedom of the moderns, he lost but little of the dryness or gaudiness of the earlier Italian-Flemish revivalists.

Frans III, born 1607, is the last of his name who deserves to be recorded. He entered the Antwerp guild 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 Frans Pourbus the younger sometimes put in the portrait figures for Frans II, so Frans III 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.O. (Den ouden) F. Franck. In the pictures of this artist are most clearly discernible the effects of Rubens's example.