Pen & ink with sepia wash on laid paper

Bears chalk and ink offset swirls verso [from previous backing, conservator's report available upon enquiry]

20.7 x 31.9cm 



[Possibly] Anonymous Sale [from catalogue, "Un Amateur étranger"], Salle de vente, rue Onderbergen, Ghent, Belgium, 01.10.1810 [Lugt Sales Catalogue B-181], Lot 127, Horatius Coclès qui défend le pont ; miniature sur vél.​​​​​​ (As Anonymous);

[Possibly] From where purchased by Maillieu (for 1 1/2 francs);

With the Folio Society Collectors' Corner (as Roman School ( 16th Century)), Stock No. D3740;

Private Collection, U.K.;

Anonymous Sale, Bamfords Auctioneers & Valuers, Derby, U.K., 24.03.2021, Lot 288 (as Italian Old Master School)



We are delighted to present this drawing which we discovered and reattributed last year, following extensive research. It is Hieronymus Francken's study for the oil painting of the same subject, now in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp (Museum Cat. 1948, Inv. No. 163, see second image) painted in 1620 for the Serment des Escrimeurs (Fencers’ Guild) of Antwerp [1]. The present work shows the artist working out the spatial relationships of the figures for the final work, which shows significantly less space beneath the bridge and an altered arrangement to the upper left and right of the work, accounting for areas where the canvas was cut to be framed.


Francken's works on paper are vanishingly rare, with only a handful fully attributed to the artist. This drawing therefore represents an important rediscovery in his corpus. Hieronymus Francken II’s autograph signed paintings are also especially scarce: the finished oil of the present subject is one such work. The Antwerp painting is also a touchstone for establishing the timeline of his output, as it is one of just a handful to be dated by the artist himself, in this case 1620. 


That date places the Antwerp painting four years later in Francken's career than his Parable of the Wise & Foolish Virgins, an oil painting now in the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The Hermitage’s picture is a further example of particular importance in deciphering the relationship between drawings and paintings by Hieronymus: the painting is now accompanied in the collection by a preliminary drawn study, similar to the present work, although heavily heightened with bodycolour. The drawing was sold at Sotheby's, New York, Old Master Drawings, 24.01.2014, Lot 13, and was donated to the Hermitage shortly after.  The Hermitage's 2015 Annual Report notes, "Hieronymus Francken II's graphic works survive in single examples and are exeptional collectors' rarities”.



Hieronymus Francken the Younger was born into the renowned Francken dynasty of artists, one of the best-known artistic families in the South Netherlands of the mid-16th to early 18th centuries. Hieronymus studied first under his father, Frans Francken the Elder, and then under his uncle, Ambrosius. He may also have worked for some time in the studio of his namesake uncle, Hieronymus the Elder, who was court painter to the King and Queen of France. 


In 1607 Hieronymus II was made a member of the Antwerp Painters Guild, having been granted the status of an independent master, but continued his profitable work in the Francken family studio. He specialised in a variety of genres, and is today best known for his depictions of kunstkammers - the grandiose views of aristocratic collections of painting, with works hung from floor to ceiling. Alongside these he also depicted court scenes, balls, still lives and was a pioneer - alongside his brother Frans Francken II - of the popular 'singerie' (comical depictions of monkeys in anthropomorphic guise) which David Teniers would later become celebrated for. 



The subject of the present scene is recorded in the historians Livy and Dionysius: Horatius Cocles, a junior officer in the Roman army, is said to have defended the Pons Sublicius from the invading army of the Etruscan King, Lars Porsena. Cocles, according to Dionysius, defended the bridge single-handedly until his fellow Romans had managed to escape the Etruscans, and thus saved Rome. 




[1] The Royal Museum of Antwerp hold a further work (depicting Eteocles and Polynices) formerly in the possession of the Serment des Escrimeurs d'Anvers, by Hieronymus' father, Frans Francken I (Inv. No. 155).

(1) N. Peeters, Marked for the Market? Continuity, Collaboration and the Mechanics of Artistic Production of History Painting in the Francken Workshops in Counter-Reformation Antwerp, Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 50 (1999), p. 58-79

(2)  The State Hermitage Annual Report, ed. Mikhail Piotrovsky, St Petersburg (2015), p.23



(i) E. Gordon, Pentimenti in Hieronymus Francken the Younger's and Jan Brueghel the Elder's "The Archdukes Albert and Isabella Visiting a Collector's Cabinet, The Journal of the Walters Art Museum, Vol. 63 (2005), pp.113-116

(ii) N. Peeters, 'Den Quaden Tyt'? The Artistic Career of the Young Ambrosius Francken before the Fall of Antwerp, Oud Holland, Vol. 121, no. 2/3 (2008), pp.99-116)