Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits



The Adoration of the Three Kings

oil on copper

14 x 11 3/8 inches (36 x 29 cm.)


Private Collection, New York


This painting of The Adoration of the Magi, which I have studied in person, is an early work by the Antwerp painter of small figures, Frans Francken II (1581-1642). Frans Francken II lived and worked in Antwerp in the time of Peter Paul Rubens. Three generations of the Francken dynasty of painters were prominently involved in the artistic production of altarpieces in this Roman Catholic city, which today still stands under the protection of the Mother of God. Antwerp Cathedral is consecrated to her and until the present day images of Mary adorn facades of countless houses there. In Francken’s oeuvre images of Mary are among the most favoured subjects.

In this painting, Mary is enthroned above all those who have come to honour the new-born Child; the three Magi and their pages, the common folk and the shepherds. One of the Magi, the grey and wise Melchior, in his robe of ermine, has laid down his regalia, the crowned turban and sceptre, and kneels humbly and bare-headed before the new-born King. Jesus is virtually framed by the crowd, but the graceful figure of Mary rises above the multitude and her halo shines upon the scene of many faces. [1]

Francken was famous for his images with multiple figures; his small scenes with masses of people in which the turmoil seemed to be without end were already highly praised by his contemporaries. (Cornelis de Bie, 1662). Mary’s robe and Melchior’s turban, set in front of her and the Christ Child, already show some of Frans Francken’s later, extremely pronounced transparent and variegated glazing technique. The application of heightening with gold on the nimbus and on King Melchior’s robe point to a date of origin for this small copper panel around 1610, as does the figure in an ermine robe in the right foreground, from the manner in which he is cut off by the edges of the image.

Dr. Ursula Härting



[1] Under Francken’s comparable compositions, see Ursula Härting, Frans Francken d.J. (1581-1642) – Die Gemälde, Freren 1989, cat. nos. 108-111, there is only one that also places Mary in a similar high position, cat. no. 109, Härting 1989, not illustrated. Perhaps the present painting is in fact identical with the latter work, which was recorded in the Barockgalerie Augsburg, when it was deaccessioned on October 22, 1948, Härting 1989, cat. no. 109, 36 x 29, 1 cm.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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