The power of women (formerly 'Woman as the maker and breaker of Kings')



Formerly attributed to


The power of women (formerly 'Woman as the maker and breaker of Kings')

Date of Production



traces of black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash, on laid paper, incised for transfer, a few lines added or gone over later in grey ink


Height: 21.3 cm
Width: 28.8 cm

Accession Number


Mode of Acquisition

Robert Clermont Witt, bequest, 1952


The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust)


Not currently on display


Label Text

The apocryphal biblical book of Esdras recounts how three bodyguards of the Persian king Darius discussed who or what had the strongest force in the world. Wine, Kings or Women were given as options, but eventually Truth was declared to be the most powerful.
Francken’s representation of The Power of Women was the third design to be engraved by the printmaker Johannes Wierix for a related print series depicting the Four Powers. Although the drawing is fully incised, it was not directly transferred onto the printing plate as both compositions appear in the same direction. Instead, an intermediate drawing, by either the draughtsman or the printmaker, would have been used.


Jan Pietersz. Zomer, Amsterdam (1641-1724) [his handwriting on recto]; Charles Fairfax Murray, London (1849-1919); possibly his estate sale, Christie's (London), 30 January 1920, lot 160 (if there identified as 'The Israelites' journey into Egypt' by Vrancx, with 11 others); if correctly identified, purchased there by E. Parsons & Sons (London) (£12.6 for all 12); purchased there by Sir Robert Witt, London (1872-1952), n.d. (£3.5, as 'Allegorical figure of Vanity and other figures' by Vrancx); Witt Bequest 1952

Exhibition History

Drawings Gallery Display - Traces: Renaissance Drawings for Flemish Prints, The Courtauld Gallery, London, 18/06/2022-25/09/2022

Trésor de l’art flamand du moyen âge au XVIIIme Siècle [Afdeeling van de Oud-Vlaamische Kunst], Antwerp, 1930

Exhibition of Belgian and Flemish Art 1300-1900, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1927


d'Haene, Virginie (ed.), European Old Master drawings from the Bruges Print Room, Lannoo 2019
Fig. 14b on p. 73
p. 72 under no. 14
entry author Ellen Bakker

Veldman, Ilja M., ‘Who is the strongest? The riddle of Esdras in Netherlandish Art’, in 'Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art', 1987 - pp. 223-39; 17, 4
pp. 228-31

Mielke, Hans, ‘Antwerpener Graphik in der 2. Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts: Der Thesaurus veteris et novi Testamenti des Gerard de Jode (1585) und seine Künstler’ in 'Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte', 1975 - pp. 29-83; 38, 1
Fig. 21 on p. 45
pp. 43-52 ...More

Blunt, Anthony, Hand-list of the drawings in the Witt Collection, London 1956
p. 133

Exhibition of Belgian and Flemish Art 1300-1900, Royal Academy of Arts, London 1927, 1927
cat. no. 549 ...Less


Watermark: Recto, right centre: small quatrefoil above a small shield containing a horizontal dagger, all above a banderole containing letters (unable to read letters - not found in Briquet).

Inscription: Recto: lower left edge, brown ink, Zomer's hand: "2 Stúkx Sinnebeelden van Sebastiaen Frankx." [the sheet now in Bruges may be the other sheet referred to here]. Verso: lower left, brown ink: "s / No: 111 X"; lower left, brown ink: small triangle containing a vertical line; lower centre, graphite: "Vrancx"; lower right, graphite, Witt number: "930"; lower right edge, brown ink: "XV".

Collector's mark: none.

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