Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


History of Art


This dissertation investigates the ontology of the Flemish “gallery painting” genre by focusing on its understudied inventor, Frans II Francken (1581-1642), within the aesthetic and intellectual context of early modern curiosity culture and its discursive manifestation in posticonoclastic Antwerp. A morally fraught desire associated with Eve and the Fall, curiosity also drives the collector’s acquisition of knowledge and objects; “curiosity” shares its Latin derivation of cura, care, with the term “curator”, whose modern incarnation is spawned from the tradition of collecting manifest in constcamers. Nearly exclusive to Antwerp until c. 1650, gallery paintings substantiate artists’ efforts to rehabilitate the status of their craft in the wake of iconoclastic trauma by promoting collecting as an aspirational practice. Varying in content and composition, they depict meticulously curated collections – including miniature versions of well known artworks – typically examined by nobly dressed connoisseurs in elegant interiors. Gallery paintings were intended for precisely the sort of location and display they portrayed: the art rooms (constcamers) and curiosity cabinets of elite and learned collectors, particularly the liefhebbers der schilderyen (lovers of painting), officially recognized by Antwerp’s Guild of St. Luke in 1602. Of about 100 extant gallery paintings by a dozen artists, over one quarter are attributed to Francken and his family studio. Ranging from c. 1610 to his death, Francken’s production includes all four gallery painting subtypes: idealized constcamer interiors intended for sale on the open market, personalized “portraits” of verifiable collections, allegorical subjects grandly projecting Francken’s self-articulated aesthetic lineage, and still life compositions of collectable objects macroscopically re-presented such that the viewer’s eye converges with that of the collector and even the painter himself. While previous studies have investigated the gallery painting genre as a progressive whole, mine links close analysis of individual artworks with the temporally and regionally specific context of their creation, informed by the shifting cultural discourse around curiosity as derived from the history of concepts. Positing Francken’s constcamer compositions as purposeful provocations of curiosity that simultaneously instruct the viewer on its expression through collection, this dissertation is the first monograph of Frans II Francken beyond his 1989 catalogue raisonné.

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