On paper, pen in sepia
34,5 x 26 cm
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Frans Francken the Younger was a Flemish painter and the best-known member of the large Francken family of artists. He played an important role in the development of Flemish art in the first half of the 17th century through his innovations in many genres including genre painting and his introduction of new subject matter. He was a frequent collaborator of leading Antwerp painters of his time.
Frans Francken the Younger likely first worked in the family workshop before he became an independent master in the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1605. He was deacon of the Guild in 1616. Francken’s talent was recognised from an early age. Already in 1607 he was able to buy a house in the city centre where he established his residence and workshop. He became a very successful artist and operated a large workshop.
Frans Francken the Younger was a versatile artist who practised in many genres and introduced new subjects into Flemish art. Many of his works are small historical, allegorical and biblical cabinet paintings with the focus on figures. He also invented or popularized several new themes that became popular in Flemish painting, such as genre scenes populated by monkeys (also referred to as singeries) and Kunstkammer or gallery paintings displaying a wealth of natural and artistic treasures against a neutral wall. Frans Francken the Younger introduced many other unusual themes that later became popular, such as the ‘Triumphal Procession of Amphitrite’ and ‘Croesus and Solon’. Francken also made a series of paintings depicting witches and witchcraft, including portrayals of witches’ sabbats.
This beautiful drawing is the study for a well-known painting. The painting was only completed far later (1640) at the end of Francken’s lifetime, since the paper indicates this drawing to be dated ca. 1610-1620. It depicts a moment in the famous story of the Israelites and Moses, which leads to Moses eventually parting the Red Sea!
The painting is now part of the Alte Pinakothek Museum collection in Munich (Inv. No. 6253) and can be found in literature: ‘Frans Francken der jüngere (1581-1642) die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog’, Dr. Ursula Härting, Luca Verlag Freren, 1989, p. 236 no. 35 (with ill.)
The Departure of the Israelites from Egypt – also known as The Exodus – tells of their departure from Egypt, the revelations at biblical Mount Sinai, and their wanderings in the wilderness up to the borders of Canaan. Its message is that the Israelites were delivered from slavery by Yahweh their god, and therefore belong to him by covenant.
In the first book of the Pentateuch, the Book of Genesis, the Israelites had come to live in Egypt in the Land of Goshen during a famine due to the fact that an Israelite, Joseph, had become a high official in the court of the pharaoh. Exodus begins with the deaths of Joseph and the ascension of a new pharaoh “who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). The pharaoh becomes concerned by the number and strength of Israelites in Egypt and enslaves them, commanding them to build at two “supply” or “store cities” called Pithom and Rameses (Exodus 1:11). The pharaoh also orders the slaughter at birth of all male Hebrew children. One Hebrew child, however, is rescued by being placed in a basket on the Nile. He is found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, who names him Moses. Moses eventually kills an Egyptian he sees beating a Hebrew slave, and is forced to flee to Midian, marrying a daughter of the Midianite priest Jethro. The old pharaoh dies and a new one ascends to the throne.
Moses, in Midian, goes to Mount Horeb, where Yahweh (God) appears in a Burning Bush and commands him to go to Egypt to free the Hebrew slaves and bring them to the promised land in Canaan. Yahweh also speaks to Moses’s brother Aaron; they both assemble the Israelites and perform signs so that they believe in Yahweh’s promise. Moses and Aaron then go to the Pharaoh and ask him to let the Israelites go into the desert for a religious festival, but the Pharaoh refuses and commands the Israelites to make bricks without straw and increases their workload. Moses and Aaron return to the Pharaoh and this time ask him to free the Israelites. The Pharaoh demands for Moses to perform a miracle, and Aaron throws down Moses’ staff, which turns into a tannin (sea monster or snake) (Exodus 7:8-13); however, Pharaoh’s magicians are also able to do this, though Moses’ staff devours the others. The Pharaoh then refuses to let the Israelites go.
After this, Yahweh begins inflicting the Plagues of Egypt on the Egyptians for each time that Moses goes to Pharaoh and Pharaoh refuses to release the Israelites. Pharaoh’s magicians are able to replicate the first plagues, in which Yahweh turns the Nile to blood and produces a plague of frogs, but are unable to reproduce any plagues after the third, the plague of gnats. After each plague Pharaoh allows the Israelites to worship Yahweh to remove the plague, then refuses to free them. In the final plague, Yahweh kills all the firstborn sons of Egypt, and the firstborn cattle, but the Israelites, who have been commanded to kill one lamb per family and smear its blood on their doorposts, are spared. Yahweh commands that the Israelites observe a festival as “a perpetual ordinance” to remember this event (Exodus 12:14). Pharaoh finally agrees to let the Israelites go after his firstborn son is killed. Yahweh leads the Israelites in the form of a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night. However, once the Israelites have already left, Pharaoh changes his mind and pursues the Israelites to the shore of the Red Sea. Moses uses his staff to part the Red Sea, and the Israelites cross on dry ground, but the sea closes down on the pursuing Egyptians, drowning them all.