This picture has been apparently unpublished and unrecorded since its inclusion in the 1865 Sachsen-Meiningen inventory, although even then the identity of the artist was not recognised.
The subject is taken from 1 Kings XI, vv. 1-8: 'But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; Of the nations concerning which the LORD said ... Ye shall not go in to them ... for surely they will turn away your heart ... after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart after other gods: Then did Solomon build an high place for [the gods] Chemosh ... and for Molech ... And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods.'
The subject was popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, although for the most part in Protestant countries, where Solomon's heresy was used to comment upon the perceived idolatry of the Catholic church. Francken, by contrast was painting in the Spanish Netherlands, and so it might be suggested that his motive for depicting the subject owed as much to any religious undercurrent as to the opportunity to depict the lavishness of Solomon's court and, perhaps in particular, a few of his seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (a supposition that may be somewhat substantiated by Francken's depiction of them with only a very passing nod to any idolatry in a picture in the Musée Massey, Tarbes, inv. no. 855.3.14).
Ursula Härting, in her 1989 monograph on Francken (Frans Francken der Jüngere, Freren, 1989, pp. 246-7, nos. 73-81), lists nine depictions by Francken of the present subject, including that in the J. Paul Getty Museum, California (inv. no. A71 P-42), whilst two further examples have been more recently sold: at Christie's, Amsterdam, 1 November 1996, lot 151; and Sotheby's, New York, 30 January 1998, lot 224 (the latter, which has been cut on the right hand side, painted in collaboration with Cornelis de Baellieur). The evident richness of the compositions - in part afforded by the subject matter - makes it unsurprising that of those versions, five are in museums: the J. Paul Getty Museum, California; the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels; the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Clermont-Ferrand; the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Liège; and the Museum Brukenthal.
The present picture relates closest in composition to the version sold in these Rooms, 26 May 1975, lot 125 (dated by Härting, op. cit., no. 73, to circa 1615), and to that executed in collaboration with de Baellieur. All three are of particular interest in including, standing on the left of the composition in a red gown, a self-portrait of the artist (fig. 1). We are grateful to Dr. Ursula Härting for suggesting on the basis of photographs that the present work probably precedes her no. 73; if so, then its evident quality strongly suggests that it is the prime version of the subject.