Allegory, Ship of state – Frans Francken the Elder

We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare, it’s a great example of an allegory demonstrating those with natural talents could have the tendency to become lazy and complacent, where as the hard working ‘plodders’ may come up trumps against those who are more talented simply because they will put the extra effort in. Allegories in art and literature can serve many purposes from teaching people able the things they may go wrong as in Aesop’s fables, or being put to slightly more manipulative purposes, much like this painting by Frans Francken.

Francken was a Flemish painter and part of the Francken dynasty of painters who were influential in the Antwerp art scene in the 17th century. Francken was principally known for his large alter pieces and allegorical paintings. He was a pupil of Frans Floris who taught in the style of mannerism, a style known for its intellectual sophistication as well as its artificial rather than naturalistic qualities. You can see why this style suited the mind of someone who liked to paint allegories as the less realistic approach lends itself so well to presenting a picture with hidden meanings.

In this painting we see a ship with billowing sails, navigating through a rocky passage. Although the ship is at full sail, it is also equipped with oars. In the foreground, two mermaids, to the left in the background three giants, two with clubs, and to the right in the background a cave with a pack of wolves. On the ship we can see men of the clothe such as the pope and his cardinals along with figures representing the Spanish monarchy.

The allegory in this painting, is potentially a piece of catholic propaganda alluding to the long revolt of the Protestant Netherlands against the Spanish catholic rule.

The ship carrying its catholic passengers, looks like its is subject to attack and coercion on all fronts, yet they sail strongly through the perils around them, ready to Man the oars should the winds behind them change.

The revolt itself was eventually successful to the Protestant seven provinces, against the rule of the Roman Catholic King Phillip II of Spain. The religious clash of cultures built up slowly over time, but was given to outbursts of violence against the perceived repression of the crown. These tensions led to the formation of the independent Dutch republic and the revolt is know as one of the first successful secessions in Europe.

The giants in the back right corner, represent the Dutch republic, they rapidly grew during the revolt to become one of the world powers due to their merchant shipping and they underwent a period of economic, scientific and cultural growth. Despite their growth they are still shown in this picture as still looking fairly uncouth, with material barely covering their bodies and using the basic weapon of a club.

The wolves in the cave, represent the financial and cultural elite, which fled from the southern provinces and away from the heavy handed rule of King Phillip II, which ultimately assisted the success of the Dutch republic.

The mermaids in the foreground most likely represent the attempts of negotiation between the battling countries, being show as sirens trying to sway the religious passengers from their ultimate goal.

To fully understand the allegory presented by Francken, I think you need a much better understanding of the Dutch revolt than I have, but I can certainly appreciate the themes that are presented within this cleverly created piece.

Francken’s son would follow his fathers footsteps of creating allegorical paintings and continue this genres tradition.

What do you see in the painting? Why not let me know in the comments…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

Philosopher Muse

An explorer of volition and soul

The Devil's Playground

The journey through mental health by a sardonic soul

Fort of melancholy

Art & Photography

Ailish Sinclair

Stories and photos from Scotland

Memoirs of Miss Salt...........

Memories of past and present antics!

A Voice in the Dark

An Independent film company

Rich Pieces

Obsessed with film since 1982

BENLEANDER_Design Studio

Branded Storytelling and Visual Design

Big Art Theory Blog

a place where art meets literature in a way unseen before

Zhiguai Translations

Classical Chinese tales of the strange and anomalous, translated (roughly) by Geoff Humble.

Bitchin’ in the Kitchen

..because the thoughts that fall, kicking and screaming from my head need a safe place to land..


MarkovichUniverse AT

Finding French Charming

Finding True Love.. Even After Forty

My expressions

unexpressed thoughts

Channel Zero Archives

Analysis, images, meta & more, celebrating the surreal horror classic, currently streaming on Shudder

Quaint Revival

quirks, quips & photo clicks

It's Turpintime!

Stuff & Bits For The Muddled and Addled.

Things that happened on this date in history. Probably.

Eerie Unsolved

A Mix-Up of Mysteries, Conspiracie and All Things Spooky!

The Battles of Frankie

The failings and anecdotes of an average Aussie woman

The Indy Diarist

A Day in the Life

Leggings & Tea

Books. Art. Life.


Tiling.Renovation. Restoration.Photography

High Lumen

lighting design blog

Lady with Black Lipstick

Hopeless romantic speaking her thoughts.


This is the page where I will share my thoughts about football, my memories and funny stories.

The Latent Being

Believer of Freedom of Mind


A panorama is defined as an unbroken view of the whole region surrounding an observer. My panorama includes a jumbled mess of ideas and thoughts waiting to be typed out. Welcome to my panorama.

Marina Baker

marketing, social media, & business development

Chef Dave, Esq.

Lawyer by trade -- Cook by passion

Dr. Eric Perry’s Blog

Motivate | Inspire | Uplift

Cryssy’s Blog

Loving YOU without the Mask!


just a regular human trying to survive in the city


Your Source For The Coolest Science Stories

Amdall Gallery

Artwork, data analysis, and other projects by Jon

The Planet According to Dom

Where humour and adventure collide

O' Canada

Reflections on Canadian Culture From Below the Border

%d bloggers like this: