FRANCKEN, Frans I
(b. 1542, Herentals, d. 1616, Antwerpen)

Biography

Flemish painter, brother of Hieronymus Francken I. He became a master in the Antwerp Guild of St Luke in 1567 and a deacon in 1587. Together with Marten de Vos and Frans Floris, Frans I and his brother Ambrosius I were the most important painters in Catholic Antwerp during the Counter-Reformation. After the Iconoclastic Fury, the brothers received a number of ecclesiastical commissions to replace works destroyed in the churches in and around the city (e.g. for the St Waltrudiskerk, Herentals, and the St Maartenskerk, Aalst). Huge altarpieces, such as the Last Judgement for Herentals, with the figures ranged in rows as in a frieze, with very little depth or breadth, illustrate Frans I's hieroglyphic style. His earliest surviving works are two panels of a triptych of the Last Supper (1581) painted for the high altar of the cathedral of St Bavo in Ghent. His masterpiece, a triptych of Christ among the Scribes for Antwerp Cathedral (1587), remains in situ: its figures with their reticent gestures are rather wooden in effect, but the heads indicate the artist's skill for portraiture.

Frans I's hand has been recognized in some court portraits, which account for his talent in this area. As well as large-scale commissions, Frans I also painted small-scale cabinet pictures (e.g. Belshazzar's Feast, Stockholm University, Kunstsammlung), a genre continued and perfected by his sons Frans II and Hieronymus II. However, Christ Carrying the Cross (1597; Dresden, Gemaldegalerie) is so far the only known signed and dated cabinet picture by Frans I.