Attributed to Ambrosius Francken the Elder
- Ambrosius Francken the Elder
- Pen and brown ink and wash, with revisions in pen and black ink and grey wash, within red chalk framing lines; indented for transfer;
inscribed, beside various figures: Laetitia, Natura, Securitas, Aurora, Pax, Innocentia and Castitas; numbered, bottom centre, 1; bears inscriptions, lower right: J. Wierx and verso: Weierix
bears another, unidentified collector's mark, verso
By Hieronymus Wierix (in the same direction), published by Pieter Baltens, circa 1577 (fig. 1)1
This splendid, animated drawing is the working design for the first in a series of five elaborate prints on the theme of The Four Ages of Man and Death with the Triumph of Eternity, engraved by Hieronymus Wierix and published by Pieter Baltens in around 1577. As Emily J. Peters has so interestingly described, these prints were key examples of a major tradition of series of prints with related, processional subjects and imagery, which flourished in Antwerp in the later 16th century, beginning with the well-known series of prints based on the designs by Maarten van Heemskerk.
In this particular series, the iconography is especially complex. The first four plates show wagons carrying personifications of three intermingled cycles – The Ages of Man, The Times of Day, and The Seasons – while the final plate shows the Triumph of Eternity. The present composition combines representations of Childhood (Innocence, flanked by Peace and Chastity), Dawn, and Spring (the zodiacal signs of Aries, Taurus and Gemini, shown in the flag carried by the child that leads the way for the chariot).2
The iconography of this print series has rightly been the subject of detailed study, but the identification of their designer, whose name does not appear in any of the plates, has received rather less attention. Writing in 1975, Hans Mielke proposed an attribution to Ambrosius Francken the Elder for certain print designs in the Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the Courtauld Institute, London, and elsewhere3, and as part of this wide-ranging article he also proposed, without actually knowing any of the drawings, that the designs for the series to which this work belongs were by Francken.4 But although this attribution has since been generally accepted, there are in fact virtually no drawings that can actually be attributed to Francken with any certainty, and also none so far attributed to the artist that are conclusively comparable to this in style. The closest, stylistically, are the Beneficentia, in the Brussels Print Room (also the study for a print by Wierix)5, and the Saul tries to kill the harp-playing David, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.6
That said, what is totally clear is that this is a highly original, inventive design, drawn with great verve and skill, and also that this is conspicuously a working design for the print, in which certain elements have been revised or (like the very important flag-bearing child at the far left) added after the first draft of the composition. All the same, the entire design is indented for transfer, with the exception of the lightly drawn indications of sun and clouds, elements that only appear, and in a very different form, in the third and subsequent states of the print.7 If this design is indeed by Francken, as seems very likely, then his position within the thriving print publishing industry of later 16th-century Antwerp gains even greater stature.
1. M. Mauquoy-Hendrickx, Les Estampes des Wierix, Brussels 1979, no. 1550
2. Emily J. Peters, ‘Processional Print Series in Antwerp during the Dutch Revolt’, Print Quarterly, XXXII, 2015, no. 3, pp. 259-270.
3. H. Mielke, ‘Antwerpener Graphik in der 2. Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts: Der Thesaurus veteris et novi Testamenti des Gerard de Jode (1585) und seine Künstler’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 38, vol 1, 1975, pp. 43-46, figs. 19-22
4. Ibid, p. 48
5. J. van Tatenhove, review of M. Schapelhouman, 'Tekeningen van Noord- en Zuidnederlandse kunstenaars geboren voor 1600', Oud Holland, 96, 1982, no. 3, pp. 191, 194, fig. 2
6. Inv. RP-T-1996-55
7. We are very grateful to Emily Peters for bringing the revisions in the sky to our attention.