Hieronymus Francken I
Banquet Scene: An Allegory of Love and Carnality
Monogrammed HF on the foot of the tall jug (ll)
Oil on canvas
41 1/4 x 54 3/4 inches (104.8 x 138 cm)
Private collection, France
Hieronymus Francken (1540-1610), one of a family of artists, was born near Antwerp and trained there before moving to France, where he spent most of his career, although he returned repeatedly to Antwerp to refresh family and professional ties throughout his life. In France he worked for a number of noble and royal patrons, painting a variety of subjects, including scenes of elegant people feasting and dancing.
A characteristic example of this last type is this Banquet Scene, probably painted during the 1590s. Here we are asked to consider a dissolute young man in the left foreground, eating and drinking from a table arrayed with oysters, meat pies, a roast chicken, fruit, and wine. At the same time he embraces an amorous lady, while a procuress hovers over them.
In contrast to these three, at the center of the room a genteel couple is shown dancing ceremoniously to the strains of a lute and a clavichord. Hung on the walls are love scenes from Greek mythology, a visual gloss that makes it clear that the subject of this painting is love.
The meaning here is more pointedly brought home by two vignettes visible through the window at the back of the room. In the far distance we can see this same young man in two separate moments in the future, first being roughly thrust from the door of a tavern and then wallowing in the mud of a pig sty. These episodes are a clear reference to the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 12-16), who squandered his money in wild living, and as a result was reduced to tending swine, even envying them their coarse food.
The painting is thus a moralizing allegory on the value of genuine and committed love-exemplified by the couple moving harmoniously to the music-and the folly and destructive dissipation of carnality.
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