Bravery of the Persian Women

Frans Francken the YoungerYear: (1581-1642)
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circa 1600

oil on copper panel

50 x 66.5 cm

stamped on the reverse with the panel maker’s mark of Pieter Stas (active in Antwerp 1587-1610)

Bravery of the Persian Women is an early example of Frans Francken the Younger’s celebrated history paintings. Here he portrays one of the stories related by Plutarch in volume five of his Moralia, which is dedicated to the courage of women. Beating a frantic retreat, the Persian army led by Cyrus the Great sought to re-enter the city from whence it came, at the risk of bringing the pursuing enemy with it. Furious that they should be placed in danger, the women of the city ran out to meet the soldiers and lifted up their garments to shame them. Accusing their husbands of cowardice, the women urged them back into battle. Mortified, the Persians renewed their courage and returned to rout the enemy.

This cabinet-sized painting is exemplary of Francken’s technical skill in the composition of tightly-packed crowd scenes and the rendering of small figures. It is also typical of his preference for historical or allegorical subject matter that could—like Plutarch’s stories—convey a moralising message to the viewer.

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