Frans Floris, or more correctly Frans de Vriendt, called Floris (1517, Antwerp – 1 October 1570, Antwerp) was a Flemish painter, principally of history paintings. He was a leading figure in the movement in Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting referred to as Romanism. The Romanists had typically travelled to Italy where they had studied the works of leading Italian High Renaissance painters such as Michelangelo, Raphael and their followers. Their art assimilated these Italian influences into the Northern painting tradition.
Most of what we know about the youth and training of Frans Floris is based on the early biographer Karel van Mander's biography, which at ten pages long, is one of the most detailed biographies in Het Schilder-boeck published in 1604. According to van Mander, Frans was the son of the stonecutter Cornelis I de Vriendt (died 1538), whose family name was Floris, but who was so friendly that he took on the name Vriendt (Dutch for 'Friend') and this became the last name of his gifted stone-cutting son, Cornelis Floris de Vriendt (1514–1575). Van Mander's story, though entertaining, does not seem to be based on fact. In reality, the earliest known ancestors of the Floris de Vriendt family, then still called only ‘de Vriendt’, were residents of Brussels where they practiced the craft of stonemason and stonecutter which was passed on from father to son. One of Frans' ancestors became in 1406 a master of the Brussels stonemasons guild. A family member, Jan Florisz. de Vriendt, left his native Brussels and settled in Antwerp in the mid 15th century. His patronymic name ‘Floris’ became the common family name of the subsequent generations. The original form ‘de Vriendt’ can, however, still be found in official documents until the late 16th century.
Frans' brothers also became prominent artists. The most famous one is Cornelis, who was an architect and sculptor and was responsible for the design of the Antwerp City Hall. Jacob Floris was a painter of stained-glass windows and Jan Floris was a potter. Jan traveled to Spain to practice his art there and died young. Like his brothers, Frans began as a student of sculpture, but later gave up sculpture for painting.
Floris went to Liege where he studied with Lambert Lombard. The choice for Lombard as a teacher was surprising since Antwerp was a cultural centre with many outstanding painters. He may have chosen Lombard as his brother Cornelis was good friends with Lombard, whom he had met in Rome around 1538. It is also possible that Frans trained as a painter in Antwerp before studying under Lombard. Floris became a master in the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1539–40.
Lombard encouraged Frans Floris to study in Italy. He traveled to Rome probably as early as 1541 or 1542 and became fascinated with Italian contemporary painting (particularly Michelangelo and Raphael) and the antique sculpture he discovered in Rome. He kept a notebook of sketches which his pupils would later etch. Floris visited other cities in Italy including Mantua and Genoa.
Upon his return to Antwerp around 1545, he opened a workshop on the Italian model. It is said that he enjoyed such a great success that it went to his head and he took to drinking. His brother Cornelis built a palace for him in Antwerp with a facade of blue limestone and with luxurious decorations such as gilded leather wall-coverings in the bedroom. It was hoped that with his own palace with a workshop he would become a better manager and housefather. However, according to Van Mander, the contrary happened. Where he had once enjoyed a yearly income of 1000 guilders per year (a fortune in those days) Floris fell into deep debt in his old age.
The pupils and other assistants in his workshop must have enjoyed themselves because it was said that Floris could even drink a Franckfoorder under the table. His pupils loved him and when his old teacher Lambert Lombard came to visit and claimed he was nothing but an idea thief, Frans's pupils nearly lynched him. He was saved by Frans himself, who just laughed it off. However, Frans Floris was also hard working as is testified by his motto; Als ick werck, dan leef ick: als ick spelen gae, dan sterf ick. This means "When I work, I live: when I play, I die." Van Mander recounts that Floris nearly always had a large commission in his workshop on which he would work late at night, and that his pupils who stayed the last would undress him (taking off his shoes and stockings) and put him to bed before they left. Van Mander cites Frans Menton who asserted Floris was loved by his pupils for allowing them more freedom than other Antwerp master. When a small group of his pupils met up for a reunion after his death they were able to compile a list of 120 of his pupils.
Van Mander includes a list of major Antwerp church altars that were made in his workshop. These were created not only by Floris himself, but by a team of changing pupils and assistants working under his supervision. Floris painted a series of large pictures for the country houses of Spanish nobles and the villas of Antwerp patricians. He is known to have illustrated the fable of Hercules in ten compositions, and the liberal arts in seven for Nicolaas Jongelinck, a merchant of Antwerp, and adorned the duke of Aarschot's palace of Beaumont with fourteen colossal panels.
Comparatively few of his works have survived, possibly because many were destroyed during the iconoclastic destructions in Antwerp in the second half of the sixteenth century, and partly because this era in Flemish painting had fallen out of favour in art circles. The earliest extant canvas by Floris is the Mars and Venus ensnared by Vulcan in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin (1547). There are other works at Aalst, Antwerp, Copenhagen, Dresden, Florence, Zoutleeuw, Madrid, St Petersburg, Châlons-en-Champagne and Vienna.
The boldness and force Floris' works possess reflect the monumental style of their Italian models. Their technical execution reveals a rapid hand, bright coloring, and a mastery of anatomy not always evident in Netherlandish art of the time. Floris owed much of his repute to the cleverness with which his works were transferred to copper by Jerome Cock, Cornelis Cort, and Theodor Galle.
While working on a Crucifixion (of 9.7 m), and a Resurrection of equal size, for the grand prior of Spain, Floris became ill and died on 1 October 1570 in Antwerp. His paintings for the grand prior were finished by his studio assistants Frans Pourbus the Elder and Crispin van den Broeck. Poems were written about him by Dominicus Lampsonius and the poet-painter Lucas de Heere, who according to Van Mander, was his pupil.
The Netherlands Institute for Art History identifies the following pupils of Frans Floris: Joos de Beer (later teacher of Abraham Bloemaert), George Boba, Hendrick van den Broeck, Marten van Cleve, Ambrosius Francken, Frans Francken I, Frans Menton (known for schutterstukken in Alkmaar), and Isaac Claesz van Swanenburg. Van Mander lists 26 pupils of Floris, but he may have had as many as 120 assistants. Van Mander's list includes Crispin van den Broeck, Joris van Ghent (who served Philip II of Spain), Marten (and his brother Hendrick) van Cleve, Lucas de Heere, Anthonie Blocklandt van Montfoort, Thomas van Zirickzee, Simon van Amsterdam, Isaac Claesz van Swanenburg (spelled Isaack Claessen Cloeck), Frans Menton, George Boba, the 3 Francken brothers Jeroen, Frans and Ambrosius, Joos de Beer, Hans de Maier van Herentals, Apert Francen van Delft, Lois van Brussel, Thomas van Coelen, Hans Daelmans van Antwerpen, Evert van Amersfoort, Herman van der Mast, Damiaen van der Goude, Jeroen van Vissenaken, Steven Croonenborgh uyt den Hage, and Dirck Verlaen van Haerlem.
The long list of pupils and assistants shows that Frans Floris had upon his return to Antwerp adopted the studio practices that he had witnessed in Italy. He relied on a large number of assistants who came from all over the southern and northern Netherlands and even Germany. Floris invented and developed the use of study heads, which were life-size representations of people's heads which he painted in oil on panel. These were then given to his assistants, either for literal transcription or for freer adaptations. His assistants' role is not always clear and may have ranged from painting after his study heads to adding landscape backgrounds. They also copied his compositions, either in paint or on paper, for reproduction by engravers.
- Carl Van de Velde. "Frans Floris I." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 25 May 2014
- Carl Van de Velde. "Floris." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 25 May 2014
- Frans Floris in Karel van Mander's Schilderboeck, 1604 (Dutch)
- Isaack Claessen Cloeck, in Frans Floris biography in Karel van Mander's Schilderboeck, 1604 (Dutch)
- Biographical details of Frans Floris at the Netherlands Institute for Art History (Dutch)
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