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The Collection of Paintings of Sebastiaan Leerse

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Frans Francken II
Antwerp 1581-Antwerp 1642
oil on panel
78 x 115.2 x 0.5 cm
Inventory number 669

From the mid-16th century, the wealthy middle classes of Antwerp also began to collect art. Around 1610, this gave rise to a new local genre, in which collectors were portrayed in their cabinets. The Collection of Paintings of Sebastiaan Leerse is a good example of such a painting by Frans Francken II. It shows a well-to-do family posing proudly in the best room of their home. It is thanks to a family portrait by Anthony van Dyck that we know this is the family of a merchant called Sebastiaan Leerse. The collection of paintings in the picture corresponds perfectly to the tastes of the 17th-century Antwerp burgher. Leerse clearly had a preference for small works by contemporary Southern Netherlandish artists. The subject matter is diverse: from Biblical and mythological scenes to seascapes and architectural studies.

A tribute to art

Francken himself appears to be represented twice in this collection of paintings. In the centre of the picture hangs a Biblical scene, an adoration of the magi, that is quite reminiscent of a known work by him. The painting in the bottom right is also by Francken. It represents the ancient legend of the Greek painter Apelles, who became infatuated with his model Campaspe, the mistress of Alexander the Great. Magnanimous as the latter was, he kept the portrait but presented Campaspe to the artist. With his rendering of this story, Francken pays tribute to art, the artist and the collector.

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