Collection Online

view lightboxview list

The Interior of a Barbershop, ca. 1630

Artist: Frans Francken II, Flemish, 1581 - 1642

Medium: Oil on copper

Painting: 9 1/4 × 11 3/4 in. (23.5 × 29.8 cm)
Frame: 14 3/4 × 17 3/4 × 1 1/8 in. (37.5 × 45.1 × 2.9 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of Thomas Morgan Roberts in memory of his parents Emily Allen Roberts and James Thomas Roberts

Object Number: 2012.26.5

On View

(sale) Sotheby's, London, lot 48, Feb. 17, 1982; Johnny Van Haeften, Ltd., London, 1982; Thomas Morgan Roberts, Washington D.C., 2012
Frans Francken’s paintings are often small in scale but filled with lively characters and incredible detail. Here, the artist shows a barber at work in a space which also apparently functions as a tailor’s work room and possibly a pawn shop. The minute inscriptions—which sadly have become illegible over time—are almost certainly related to a proverb. In particular, one of the men at left has drawn his purse through the handle of a pair of large shears or scissors (the blades are the long, rectangular objects extending downwards from his waist). This recalls the Flemish proverb Hij heeft doek trekken door het oog van een schaar. Meaning literally to pull a piece of cloth through the hole in the handle of a pair of scissors, the proverb connotes that someone—perhaps a pawnbroker or dishonest tailor—is making an unfair profit.