Frans Francken the Younger
- Frans Francken the Younger
- The Israelites, after crossing the Red Sea, at the tomb of the Patriarch Joseph
- signed and dated lower left: ffranck . IN et f./ Ao.1630 .
- oil on oak panel
- 65.6 by 109.5 cm.; 25 3/4 by 43 in.
Acquired through the above by Baron Coppée in July 1927;
Thence by descent.
Tokyo, Tobu Museum of Art, The World of Bruegel. The Coppée Collection and Eleven International Museums, 29 March – 25 June 1995, no. F26.
U. Härting, Studien für Kabinettbildmalerei des Frans Francken II, Hildesheim, Zurich and New York, 1983, no. A17;
A. Pippidi, ‘Essai d'un catalog de l'œuvre de Fr. Francken II’, in Revue romain d'histoire de l'art, Série des Beaux arts, XXII, 1985, p. 26;
U. Härting, Frans Francken der Jüngere 1581–1642. Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Freren 1989, p. 58, 122, 236, cat. no. 39, reproduced fig. 57;
S. Leclercq et al., La Collection Coppée, Liège 1991, pp. 146–49, reproduced;
M. Wilmotte, in the catalogue of the exhibition The World of Bruegel. The Coppée Collection and Eleven International Museums, Tokyo 1995, pp. 204–05, no. F26, reproduced.
Francken has here combined two important episodes from the Biblical story of the Israelites' flight out of Egypt and their return to the Promised Land as recounted in the Book of Exodus. Here, having successfully crossed the Red Sea under the leadership of Moses, they watch while in the right distance the Pharoah and his armies are destroyed when God engulfs them in the waters. In the centre of the composition, some of the Hebrews gather around the coffin of the patriarch Joseph, which lies open on the ground. According to Genesis (50:25–26) Joseph, before his death, made his brothers swear that they would carry his bones out of Egypt to Canaan. In the Book of Exodus (13:19) Moses fulfilled this vow by taking Joseph's bones with him when the Israelites fled Egypt: 'And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.' Joseph's bones were taken in his sarcophagus and by tradition were later interred in Schechem in Canaan. The pretty young women seated beside the tomb admiring jewelry and precious vessels are probably derived from an earlier passage (Exodus, 12:35) in which '...the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver and jewels of gold, and raiment'. While strictly speaking not a precise part of the Biblical text, the scene allowed Francken to indulge his considerable talents in the depiction of precious metals and materials, a favoured facet of many of his paintings, notwithstanding their subject.
The story of the Israelites' flight out of Egypt was clearly a preferred subject of Francken's, and Ursula Härting records at least six other occasions in which he returned to this particular scene of the Israelites after the Crossing of the Red Sea.1 As she notes, the popularity of the subject may have been due to the fact that many in the southern Netherlands in the early seventeenth century regarded the story of the Israelites as analagous to their own struggle to protect their minority Catholic faith from the increasing menace of the rising Protestant Northern provinces.2 The earliest of Francken's depictions of the subject is the panel painted in 1621 and now in the Kunsthalle in Hamburg, and the latest that of 1640 sold Paris, Palais Galleria 26 March 1974.3 The Coppée panel occupies a point mid-way between these two, and is surely his finest rendition of the subject. By comparison with the earlier panel in Hamburg, with its broader panorama and high key local colours, Francken has here brought the principal figures much closer to the spectator and rendered the whole in a much more unified tonal scheme. By this date, that is to say around 1630, Francken had abandoned the thick impasto of his earlier works for a fluid technique involving a build up of several layers of semi-transparent glazes of different colours. The Coppée panel represents this change perfectly: the varieties of metals, textiles and their textures all merge in harmony with each other and with the landscape as a whole.
1. See Härting, under Literature, 1989, pp. 236–39, cat. nos 38–44.
2. See, for example, S. Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches, London 1987, pp. 110 ff. The Dutch provinces were equally quick to claim the Exodus experience as reflective of their own.
3. Härting, op. cit., 1989, pp. 236 and 238, nos 40 and 41, reproduced. The date on the latter is not distinct.