The sermon of the Baptist is set in a large open space, with rich vegetation and wooded glimpses, and on the back, in the distance, you can see the buildings of a city.
The scene sees Giovanni standing in the center, slightly shifted to the right, surrounded by a crowd of popular characters.
On the left, in the foreground, some upper-class figures stand out, represented with rich clothes, and one of them is on horseback, accompanied by a squire with a hunting hawk on his shoulder.
The construction of the scene that divides the characters along two lines is remarkably effective: those of the people on the right, represented along a transversal that seems to lead to the city that can be glimpsed on the left, making us imagine a large crowd scattered all along the road, and those of higher rank placed along a detached line, parallel to the lower edge of the painting.
In this sense, the participation of the various characters also seems to be different, that of the men of power more detached and questioning, that of the commoners more participated and affected.
Among them we note a woman on the right, in tears, who wipes her eyes with a handkerchief, and another on John’s right who reaches her hands in prayer listening to him, and another like this on his left. Around the Saint other figures show surprise, remaining open-mouthed, and participation, with their eyes turned to the preacher.
The observer’s eye is struck by the richness of the descriptive details that characterize the various characters, each represented and described with different clothes and colors, or with elements that make them imagine their role or profession, such as the breeder on the right carrying a basket full of birds.
In front of the Baptist a mother with child is represented, as if to remember motherhood and the role of the Madonna
Dimensions: cm. 65 x 96
The work, which comes from an important private collection in northern Italy, is attributable to the production of the workshop of Frans Francken II known as “the young man” (1581-1642).
The painting refers to the identical one now preserved in the Prado museum in Madrid, and originally part of the Spanish royal collection, signed and dated “Doffranck 1623”.
It differs from it for the slightly larger sizes (65×96 while that of the Prado measures 56×91) and some different details, especially in the landscape, suggesting a different hand in its composition.
The dating is therefore slightly later than 1623.
(Thanks to Ursula Harting for the attribution form).
Flemish painter born in Antwerp in 1581, son of Frans Francken I and grandson of Hieronimus Francken, Frans Francken in 1605 joined the Guild of San Lucas Painters in his hometown, starting a career that lasted until 1640.
An eclectic painter, he painted mythological, historical, religious, allegorical, genre paintings, still lifes of flowers and fruit, portraits, architecture and “studio paintings” (kunstgalerijen). In fact, he specialized in small and medium-sized paintings representing biblical scenes and numerous mythological and historical subjects, created for the creation of personal art galleries.
Influenced by the painting of the Francken family’s predecessors, in his first production he referred to the mannerism and painting of the sixteenth century, both in the structure of the compositions and in the rhythm and expression of the figures (characterized by large black eyes, obtained through touches of coal, which are found throughout his production), as in the choice of warm and intense colors, with obvious allusions to the work of Italian artists such as Raphael, Veronese or Zuccaro.
Starting from about 1610, his palette became clearer, while the themes and interpretations continued to repeat themselves through various replicas: it is in this period that the figures, especially stereotyped women, began to appear in Francken’s works, which will repeat themselves in all his work, and from 1620 also the male ones.
The general brightness reached its peak in this period, determining the chromatic scheme of the work, while from about 1630, the last phase of his production, in his works he rather approached the chromatic choices of local production, where brown often dominated, following both the style of Rubens and that of Dutch painting of the time.
Francken the Younger also made altarpieces and often collaborated with other Flemish artists, in the creation of landscapes or interior scenes, in which he painted the figures.