Francis Cleyn (Biographical details)

Francis Cleyn (designer; German; Danish; British; Male; 1582 - 1658)

Also known as

Cleyn, Francis; Clein, Francis; Clein, Franz


One of the most significant artists working in England in the first half of the seventeenth century, although one whose multifarious activities are extremely difficult to track. He was born in Rostock, on the Baltic, and seems to have been trained in the Netherlands. During the 1610s he was in Italy, and from 1617 was employed by Christian IV of Denmark on decorative paintings for the Castle of Rosenborg. He first came to England on a visit in 1623, and made such an impression that James asked Christian (James's brother-in-law) to release him. On his arrival in 1625 he was granted denization and a pension of £100 for life.
A list of works that he had executed for Charles before 1631 includes designs for a triumphal arch and the great seal, copies of two of Raphael's tapestry cartoons, and a crucifix and other paintings for the Queen. His principal job, however, was as the designer of tapestries for the factory in Mortlake, first established in 1619, a business that was of great interest and concern to Charles I. In 1627 a house was built for him at Mortlake, and Vertue (I p.59) transcribed from the parish register the dates of birth of five children born between 1625 and 1632. After Sir Francis Crane's death in 1636, when Charles took over the factory and installed Sir James Palmer as manager, Clein's salary was raised to £250 a year, out of which he was expected to pay an assistant. Clein retained his association with Mortlake even under the Commonwealth, which, perhaps surprisingly, kept up the tapestry manufacture.
A drawing for the engraved title page of John Speed's 'Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain', later edition, post 1625?, attributed to Clein, is in the NGS (D 960).
Clein is also documented to have made many interior decorations for country houses, of which only those at Ham have survived. Some Italianate shell-backed chairs from Holland House (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum) are thought to be by him. He told Symonds that he had been Dobson's master.
By 1642 the Civil War forced Charles to cease all his subsidies to Mortlake, and the loss of his annual wages must have affected Clein severely. One consequence was that he turned his attention to printmaking, and almost all his printed designs belong to the period from 1645 until his death. In 1653 he was living near Covent Garden, where he was visited by Richard Symonds, who made a list of the paintings in his possession. He died at Mortlake and was buried at St Paul's Covent Garden on 23 March 1658.


Hollstein (German) (26 nos); H. Geissler, 'Zeichnung in Deutschland: deutsche Zeichner 1540-1640, vol.2, Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, 1979, pp. 144 -145; ECM & PH, pp. 283-6; A. Griffiths, 'Print in Stuart Britain' BM 1998 p.118, from which the biography below is taken (with list of prints by and after); 'Hilliard to Hogarth', BM 1987, pp.70-1; T. Campbell, 'A Consideration of the Career and Work of Francis Clein', MA diss, Courtauld, 1987