Hieronymus Francken the Elder

The Adoration of the Magi

Hieronymus I Francken was born in Herentals in 1540. His father, Nicolas Francken, was a painter, as were Hieronymus’ three brothers: Frans, Ambrosius and Cornelis. While Frans (the Elder), Ambrosius (the Elder) and Hieronymus (the Elder) became successful painters who quickly made a name for themselves, the same cannot be said of their brother Cornelis. (Hieronymus’ daughter Isabella, who was presumably taught by her father, also went on to become a painter, although little of her oeuvre is known at present.) At first, the brothers were taught by their father; around 1560, Hieronymus was in Antwerp, apprenticed to the famous mannerist painter Frans Floris. Although it remains unclear whether or not he went to Italy, this fact is certainly suggested by a painting of his hand depicting a scene from the Carnival of Venice (currently kept in the Suermond-Ludwig Museum, Aachen). In 1566 the painter went to Paris, where he lived in the faubourg Saint-Germain; later on he would be engaged for the decorations of Fontainebleau castle, along with many of the great artists of his age.

In 1571 he (briefly?) returned to Antwerp to finish an Adoration of the Magi left unfinished by his master Frans Floris, who had died the year before. Archival sources seem to suggest that he returned to Paris, as he was recorded there in 1572; in 1574 however he is again spotted in Antwerp. From 1578 until his death in 1610 he lived and worked in Paris; in 1594 he was even appointed painter to the king, Henri III, whose portrait he allegedly painted. He briefly taught Abraham Bloemaert when the latter was at Fontainebleau. Other pupils include Frans Francken the Younger and Hieronymus van Kessel. Hieronymus Francken painted mostly religious scenes, although he also produced courtly (dance) scenes and portraits (his magnificent self-portrait is kept at the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence today). Stylistically, he worked in an elegant mannerist style, showing not only Flemish but also French and Italian influences.

The present work, a signed Adoration of the Magi, is one of the few extant drawings by Hieronymus Francken and clearly shows the different stylistic influences and idioms the artist had observed and absorbed during his travels. Rather unusually, it shows not only the rather ‘intimate’ setting of the stable with just the Holy Family, the three Magi and a few servants, but the whole – rather extensive – retinue of the Magi too! (This can also be seen, for example, in several Adorations by Jan Brueghel the Elder.) Clearly this iconography presented an excellent opportunity for the artist to let himself go a bit, depicting a whole range of figures engaged in different activities.

Artist: Hieronymus Francken the Elder (Herentals ca. 1540 - 1610 Paris)
Medium: pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash on laid paper
Dimensions: 240 x 405 mm
Signed: monogram 'HF', lower right