Lot No. 5


Frans Francken II


Frans Francken II - Old Master Paintings

(Antwerp 1581–1642) Man Having to Choose between the Virtues and Vices, signed and dated at lower left Do ffranck fecit. Ao 1635 (probably rather than 1633), oil on panel (the large picture support consisting of several joined panels is absolutely even and shows a gesso ground of chalk and hide glue, as well as fragments of two seals), 142 x 210.8 cm, framed,

Provenance: Gift from the City of Antwerp to Peter Joseph von Franken-Siersdorf, Bishop of Antwerp (d. 1727); as from 1817 in the collection of Count Sierstorpff, Driburg Castle, Westphalia; sale, Lepke, Berlin, 19 April 1887, lot 71; sale, Von der Porten, Hanover, 13 Dec. 1949; private collection, Berlin.

Literature: Catalogue of the Count Sierstorpff Collection, Braunschweig 1817, pp. 33-45 (with the following comment on our painting: „Mit diesem Stücke will ich die Beschreibung anfangen, da es als Erbschafts-Stück die nächste Veranlassung zu meiner Gemälde-Sammlung gegeben hat... Alles ist kräftig, warm und schön coloriert, und das ganze auf Holz gemalte Bild vollkommen wohl erhalten und als ein seltenes Kunstwerk anzusehen. Es ist ein Erbstück meines Grossoheims, der Bischof zu Antwerp war, eine Sammlung von Gemälden hatte, und dieses Stück von der Stadt Antwerp zum Geschenke erhalten hat...“ [„I wish to start my description with this piece, for as an heirloom it is the immediate cause for my collection of paintings… Everything is rendered in strong, warm, and beautiful colours, and the whole picture painted on wood is entirely well preserved and has to be regarded as a rare work of art. It is an heirloom from my great-uncle, who was the Bishop of Antwerp, owned a collection of paintings, and had received this piece as a gift from the City of Antwerp…“]); L. Schücking and F. Freiligrath, Das malerische und romantische Westphalen, Paderborn 1872, pp. 80-83; H. Riegel, Beiträge zur niederländischen Kunstgeschichte, vols., Berlin 1882, p. 80 (facsimile of the signature); Weltkunst, 1949, p. 12 (repr.); Ursula Härting, Studien zur Kabinettbildmalerei des Frans Francken II (doctoral dissertation), Hildesheim-Zurich-New York 1983, no. A262 and p. 185, n. 437; U. Härting, Frans Francken II, Freren 1989, pp. 342/43, no. 362.

We thank. Dr. Werner Telesko for his assistance in the compilation of this entry, on the picture‘s complex iconography: „In terms of composition and content, the present painting is divided into several zones. For its iconographic interpretation, the focus has to be directed to the seated figure with a pilgrim‘s staff and bag in the right section, which functions as an „anima christiana“ meant to personify the pilgrimage character of human life. Protagonists from antiquity and the Old Testament enter the scene from the left, about to present to the „anima christiana“ such insignia as sword, sceptre, crown, and globe or orb. The world‘s riches are piled up on a table.

As a hidden allusion, none other than Paris can be recognized in the figure of the shepherd, who is known to have been overwhelmed with presents by Juno, Pallas Athena, and Venus. These three goddesses also appear in Francken’s painting: Juno on the left, with the goods of worldly riches, Athena at centre, and Venus on the right, pointing out the female figure reclining on a bed – obviously an allusion to Helen, in whose favour Paris will eventually decide. Fortuna, the goddess of fate, who stands next to Paris, thus also symbolizes the unfortunate consequences (the Trojan War) the decision made by Paris was to entail; behind them appears Hermes, the messenger of the gods, who came to Mount Ida when Paris was there as a shepherd and his decision still lay before him. This is why the figure of the shepherd is frequently associated with Paris himself. These mythological allusions are nothing else but a delicately woven texture from which Francken developed a highly refined Christian allegory in using the Judgement of Paris as a theme to illustrate the consequences of a decision made by a human being at the crossroads ("Paris christianus") – a most ingenious move that is even outstanding when considering Francken’s penchant for complex pictorial inventions.

The group of the Virtues at centre, which includes the three Catholic virtues Faith, Love, and Hope (according to 1 Corinthians 13:13) and which is complemented here by Hercules and Minerva as virtuous heroes of classical antiquity, leads over to the right part of the composition, but also has the important function of pointing to the painting‘s upper section, with the gloriole of angels and Hebrew Tetragrammaton (for Jahveh). The putto carrying a pronged laurel crown (and marking the bottom of the gloriole) refers to the coronation of the „victor“ or hero and thus to the reward Man will receive for his glorious deeds on earth. In the right section, the „anima christiana“ is tempted by the earthly vices: Fortune on the globe, embodying fate‘s changeful nature, and Venus beset the seated figure of the pilgrim. Mercury appears behind this group. With her left hand, Venus points to a woman in bed, who stands for carnal love; she is accompanied by Bacchus and Abundance (with a cornucopia), the personification of fertility, on the right. The great importance of Man‘s making the „right“ (virtuous) decision is expressed in the lower section, symbolizing the horrors of hell (with the devil at centre, in front of the gates of hell); they are rendered in a satirical fashion as a monkey‘s triumphal procession (left), thus reversing the coronation motif in the upper section into the negative. Death (on the left) and Chronos (on the right), the embodiment of earthly time, flank this group of dancing and singing figures, which through its juxtaposition with Death and hell on the left and Cupid on the right receives an antithetic key-note that characterizes the picture as a whole.“ The Lepke sale catalogue of 1887 rightly points out: „A masterpiece, incomparably more important that the other known gallery pictures by this artist…“ There is no doubt that this composition is a masterpiece and one of the principal works by Francken, not only because of its elaborate iconography, but also and above all because of the superior artistic quality that is revealed in all the details.

Dr. Ursula Härting, author of the catalogue raisonné of the works by Frans Francken the Younger, in her in-depth certificate: „This painting, which is known to me in the original, is a complex allegory and most of all a masterpiece by the hand of the Flemish figure painter Frans Francken the Younger (1581-1642). Francken was praised by his contemporaries for his crowded scenes, of which the present composition constitutes an impressive example… There is no composition in Francken‘s large oeuvre that presents itself so ingeniously conceived and excellently painted as this one. Subsequent research will no doubt reveal further and probably more plausible levels of interpretation for the present allegory. Numerous of its figural motifs are quotations, many of which have not yet been discovered. The question arises whether Francken‘s composition was not actually based on a musical performance, since the picture resembles a stage and the sequence of individual scenes is reminiscent of contemporary ‚speaking pictures‘… Many interpictorial references still remain unsolved, and a plausible title has yet to be found. For now, one cannot but agree to the assessment made by Kaspar Heinrich von Sierstorpff that this masterpiece ‚is entirely well preserved and has to be regarded as a rare work of art…‘“ Dr. Härting suggests a new level of interpretation: „At the pivotal point of Francken‘s monumental composition and at the place from which its central meaning emanates, the antique deity Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, appears at centre, mounted by a gloriole of angels inscribed with the sign of God.

In Francken‘s day, Minerva was not only considered the personification of wisdom, but also as a protectress of the arts… It seems important that Minerva appears in the centre of the composition, which might suggest that the goddess presents literary sources from history and mythology and ideas and ideologies whose philosophical and humanist gist was apt to be transferred to the stage in the form of scenic and musical plays - subject matter for both the theatre and painting. Here Minverva as the protectress of the arts might reveal a compendium of literary and musical themes that were meant to be presented via the visual and the performing arts for the benefit and entertainment of the audience. This would also account for the assemblage of so many individual scenes and motifs…“ Dr. Härting concludes: „There is no composition in Francken‘s prolific oeuvre that was conceived equally masterfully and reveals such high-quality painting ([in a footnote:] there is no detail in which I recognize a hand other than his). Having accomplished a work balanced in terms of colour that is both serene and charming, rendered in minute detail, and flawless in terms of perspective, with the gestures and expressions showing an unparalleled gracefulness, Frans Francken the Younger has proven his skills as a painter of small figures of the highest rank, even when it comes to such a monumental format. His theatrical pandemonium is most entertaining, and the spectrum of his figures is appealing, amusing, and harmonious - something to delight in in the true sense of the word.

Specialist: Dr. Alexander Strasoldo Dr. Alexander Strasoldo
+43-1-515 60-556

alexander.strasoldo@dorotheum.at

21.04.2010 - 18:00

Realized price: **
EUR 7,022,300.-
Estimate:
EUR 400,000.- to EUR 500,000.-

Frans Francken II


(Antwerp 1581–1642) Man Having to Choose between the Virtues and Vices, signed and dated at lower left Do ffranck fecit. Ao 1635 (probably rather than 1633), oil on panel (the large picture support consisting of several joined panels is absolutely even and shows a gesso ground of chalk and hide glue, as well as fragments of two seals), 142 x 210.8 cm, framed,

Provenance: Gift from the City of Antwerp to Peter Joseph von Franken-Siersdorf, Bishop of Antwerp (d. 1727); as from 1817 in the collection of Count Sierstorpff, Driburg Castle, Westphalia; sale, Lepke, Berlin, 19 April 1887, lot 71; sale, Von der Porten, Hanover, 13 Dec. 1949; private collection, Berlin.

Literature: Catalogue of the Count Sierstorpff Collection, Braunschweig 1817, pp. 33-45 (with the following comment on our painting: „Mit diesem Stücke will ich die Beschreibung anfangen, da es als Erbschafts-Stück die nächste Veranlassung zu meiner Gemälde-Sammlung gegeben hat... Alles ist kräftig, warm und schön coloriert, und das ganze auf Holz gemalte Bild vollkommen wohl erhalten und als ein seltenes Kunstwerk anzusehen. Es ist ein Erbstück meines Grossoheims, der Bischof zu Antwerp war, eine Sammlung von Gemälden hatte, und dieses Stück von der Stadt Antwerp zum Geschenke erhalten hat...“ [„I wish to start my description with this piece, for as an heirloom it is the immediate cause for my collection of paintings… Everything is rendered in strong, warm, and beautiful colours, and the whole picture painted on wood is entirely well preserved and has to be regarded as a rare work of art. It is an heirloom from my great-uncle, who was the Bishop of Antwerp, owned a collection of paintings, and had received this piece as a gift from the City of Antwerp…“]); L. Schücking and F. Freiligrath, Das malerische und romantische Westphalen, Paderborn 1872, pp. 80-83; H. Riegel, Beiträge zur niederländischen Kunstgeschichte, vols., Berlin 1882, p. 80 (facsimile of the signature); Weltkunst, 1949, p. 12 (repr.); Ursula Härting, Studien zur Kabinettbildmalerei des Frans Francken II (doctoral dissertation), Hildesheim-Zurich-New York 1983, no. A262 and p. 185, n. 437; U. Härting, Frans Francken II, Freren 1989, pp. 342/43, no. 362.

We thank. Dr. Werner Telesko for his assistance in the compilation of this entry, on the picture‘s complex iconography: „In terms of composition and content, the present painting is divided into several zones. For its iconographic interpretation, the focus has to be directed to the seated figure with a pilgrim‘s staff and bag in the right section, which functions as an „anima christiana“ meant to personify the pilgrimage character of human life. Protagonists from antiquity and the Old Testament enter the scene from the left, about to present to the „anima christiana“ such insignia as sword, sceptre, crown, and globe or orb. The world‘s riches are piled up on a table.

As a hidden allusion, none other than Paris can be recognized in the figure of the shepherd, who is known to have been overwhelmed with presents by Juno, Pallas Athena, and Venus. These three goddesses also appear in Francken’s painting: Juno on the left, with the goods of worldly riches, Athena at centre, and Venus on the right, pointing out the female figure reclining on a bed – obviously an allusion to Helen, in whose favour Paris will eventually decide. Fortuna, the goddess of fate, who stands next to Paris, thus also symbolizes the unfortunate consequences (the Trojan War) the decision made by Paris was to entail; behind them appears Hermes, the messenger of the gods, who came to Mount Ida when Paris was there as a shepherd and his decision still lay before him. This is why the figure of the shepherd is frequently associated with Paris himself. These mythological allusions are nothing else but a delicately woven texture from which Francken developed a highly refined Christian allegory in using the Judgement of Paris as a theme to illustrate the consequences of a decision made by a human being at the crossroads ("Paris christianus") – a most ingenious move that is even outstanding when considering Francken’s penchant for complex pictorial inventions.

The group of the Virtues at centre, which includes the three Catholic virtues Faith, Love, and Hope (according to 1 Corinthians 13:13) and which is complemented here by Hercules and Minerva as virtuous heroes of classical antiquity, leads over to the right part of the composition, but also has the important function of pointing to the painting‘s upper section, with the gloriole of angels and Hebrew Tetragrammaton (for Jahveh). The putto carrying a pronged laurel crown (and marking the bottom of the gloriole) refers to the coronation of the „victor“ or hero and thus to the reward Man will receive for his glorious deeds on earth. In the right section, the „anima christiana“ is tempted by the earthly vices: Fortune on the globe, embodying fate‘s changeful nature, and Venus beset the seated figure of the pilgrim. Mercury appears behind this group. With her left hand, Venus points to a woman in bed, who stands for carnal love; she is accompanied by Bacchus and Abundance (with a cornucopia), the personification of fertility, on the right. The great importance of Man‘s making the „right“ (virtuous) decision is expressed in the lower section, symbolizing the horrors of hell (with the devil at centre, in front of the gates of hell); they are rendered in a satirical fashion as a monkey‘s triumphal procession (left), thus reversing the coronation motif in the upper section into the negative. Death (on the left) and Chronos (on the right), the embodiment of earthly time, flank this group of dancing and singing figures, which through its juxtaposition with Death and hell on the left and Cupid on the right receives an antithetic key-note that characterizes the picture as a whole.“ The Lepke sale catalogue of 1887 rightly points out: „A masterpiece, incomparably more important that the other known gallery pictures by this artist…“ There is no doubt that this composition is a masterpiece and one of the principal works by Francken, not only because of its elaborate iconography, but also and above all because of the superior artistic quality that is revealed in all the details.

Dr. Ursula Härting, author of the catalogue raisonné of the works by Frans Francken the Younger, in her in-depth certificate: „This painting, which is known to me in the original, is a complex allegory and most of all a masterpiece by the hand of the Flemish figure painter Frans Francken the Younger (1581-1642). Francken was praised by his contemporaries for his crowded scenes, of which the present composition constitutes an impressive example… There is no composition in Francken‘s large oeuvre that presents itself so ingeniously conceived and excellently painted as this one. Subsequent research will no doubt reveal further and probably more plausible levels of interpretation for the present allegory. Numerous of its figural motifs are quotations, many of which have not yet been discovered. The question arises whether Francken‘s composition was not actually based on a musical performance, since the picture resembles a stage and the sequence of individual scenes is reminiscent of contemporary ‚speaking pictures‘… Many interpictorial references still remain unsolved, and a plausible title has yet to be found. For now, one cannot but agree to the assessment made by Kaspar Heinrich von Sierstorpff that this masterpiece ‚is entirely well preserved and has to be regarded as a rare work of art…‘“ Dr. Härting suggests a new level of interpretation: „At the pivotal point of Francken‘s monumental composition and at the place from which its central meaning emanates, the antique deity Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, appears at centre, mounted by a gloriole of angels inscribed with the sign of God.

In Francken‘s day, Minerva was not only considered the personification of wisdom, but also as a protectress of the arts… It seems important that Minerva appears in the centre of the composition, which might suggest that the goddess presents literary sources from history and mythology and ideas and ideologies whose philosophical and humanist gist was apt to be transferred to the stage in the form of scenic and musical plays - subject matter for both the theatre and painting. Here Minverva as the protectress of the arts might reveal a compendium of literary and musical themes that were meant to be presented via the visual and the performing arts for the benefit and entertainment of the audience. This would also account for the assemblage of so many individual scenes and motifs…“ Dr. Härting concludes: „There is no composition in Francken‘s prolific oeuvre that was conceived equally masterfully and reveals such high-quality painting ([in a footnote:] there is no detail in which I recognize a hand other than his). Having accomplished a work balanced in terms of colour that is both serene and charming, rendered in minute detail, and flawless in terms of perspective, with the gestures and expressions showing an unparalleled gracefulness, Frans Francken the Younger has proven his skills as a painter of small figures of the highest rank, even when it comes to such a monumental format. His theatrical pandemonium is most entertaining, and the spectrum of his figures is appealing, amusing, and harmonious - something to delight in in the true sense of the word.

Specialist: Dr. Alexander Strasoldo Dr. Alexander Strasoldo
+43-1-515 60-556

alexander.strasoldo@dorotheum.at


Buyers hotline Mon.-Fri.: 9.00am - 6.00pm
old.masters@dorotheum.at

+43 1 515 60 403
Auction: Old Master Paintings
Date: 21.04.2010 - 18:00
Location: Vienna | Palais Dorotheum
Exhibition: 10.04. - 21.04.2010


** Purchase price incl. charges and taxes

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