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Anthony Van Dyck

Anthony Van Dyck

The Flemish painter Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) transformed the court portrait into a vehicle of great expressiveness.

In the 17th century the city of Antwerp could boast three eminent artists—Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, and Jacob Jordaens—who raised Flemish painting to a level almost unequaled in Europe. The main credit for this achievement belongs to Rubens, the eldest and unquestionably the most brilliant figure of the trio. Because Van Dyck grew up in the shadow of Rubens, it is easy to underrate his genius. Van Dyck has too often been dismissed either as a facile imitator of his predecessor or as a slick and shallow painter of the aristocracy, his only real gift being an ability to flatter his patrons. This superficial judgment can no longer be seriously maintained. He was an immensely gifted and original artist who, far from being eclipsed by the overpowering personality of Rubens, succeeded in establishing his own international reputation as a portraitist of imagination and sensitivity.

Antoon van Dyck (later Anglicized as Anthony Van Dyck) was born in Antwerp in 1599, the seventh child of a prosperous merchant. In 1609 he was registered as a pupil of the minor painter Hendrik van Balen, and in 1618, not yet 19 years of age, he was accepted as a master in the Guild of St. Luke. He entered Rubens's studio as an assistant about 1617 or 1618 and remained there until late 1620.

First Antwerp Period

Van Dyck was astonishingly precocious: the appealing self-portrait in Vienna was made when he was 14 or 15. Rubens was quick to make use of this extraordinary ability. As senior assistant in his studio, the young Van Dyck collaborated in the execution of many of Rubens's larger commissions during this period. Among the works in which his hand may be observed is Rubens's great Coup de lance.

In his independent paintings at this time we see the young Van Dyck striving to become another Rubens. This is particularly true of the early religious subjects, such as St. Martin Dividing His Cloak, which are strikingly Rubens-like in color and composition. A hint of the artist's future development may be discovered in the Betrayal of Christ, which has a quality of nervous excitement that is more indicative of Van Dyck's own temperament. But it is the early portraits that reveal most clearly the poetic sensitivity that was to make Van Dyck the unrivaled interpreter of the aristocracy. Graceful, elegant, and more than a little neurotic, the self-portraits are marked by an intimacy that owes little to Rubens. Among the master-pieces of this period are the portraits of the painter Frans Snyders and his wife.

By November 1620, having entered the service of King James I, Van Dyck was in England. But he soon gave up his duties as court artist and returned to Antwerp in the spring of 1621. In October he set out for Italy, where he was to stay for 6 years.

Italian Period

Van Dyck visited Genoa, Rome, Venice, and Sicily. Artistically speaking, the most important experience was his discovery of Titian, whose influence remained with Van Dyck for the rest of his life. Although he painted some notable altarpieces, of which the Madonna of the Rosary is the most imposing, the finest works of the Italian sojourn are surely his portraits of members of the nobility; his painting of Cardinal Bentivoglio is the very model of a prince of the church, and the Marchesa Elena Grimaldi, one of a series of portraits of Genoese aristocrats, is an elegant variation on a theme by Rubens.

Second Antwerp Period

The years 1628-1632, which found Van Dyck settled once more in Antwerp, may be regarded as a kind of bourgeois interlude. Here he produced some of his most lyrical and deeply felt devotional pictures, among them the ecstatic Vision of the Blessed Herman Joseph (1630). Commissions for princely portraits were numerous: Van Dyck's sitters at this time included Marie de Médicis, Prince Frederick Henry of Orange, and the young Prince Rupert. Yet these impressive court pictures are surpassed in sympathetic understanding by his portraits of Antwerp citizens and fellow artists, such as the sculptor Colyns de Nole and his wife and daughter and the painter Martin Rijckaert. These works show with what ease Van Dyck could adapt his style to the prevailing bourgeois atmosphere of his native city. But it was his destiny to become a court artist, and when King Charles I, who had already purchased the beautiful Rinaldo and Armida, summoned him to England, Van Dyck felt obliged to answer the call.

Late Period

The climactic phase of Van Dyck's career opened in 1632 with his appointment as "principalle Paynter in ordinary to their Majesties, " Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria. The King received the artist with the utmost consideration, awarded him a knighthood, and showered him with commissions.

As court painter, Van Dyck did not spend all his time in England. He was in Brussels and Antwerp during much of 1634 and in October was elected honorary dean of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke. In 1640 and 1641 he made visits to Antwerp and Paris. By the latter year his health had begun to fail. He died in London in December 1641, leaving his wife, Mary Ruthven, and an infant daughter.

The favors bestowed by Charles I on Van Dyck were not misplaced, for it was at his court that the artist's genius as a portrait painter was fully realized. Three superb equestrian canvases stand out among the many royal likenesses: Charles I Hunting (Louvre, Paris), Charles I with his Equerry (Buckingham Palace, London), and Charles I on Horseback (National Gallery, London), the last recalling in some respects Titian's famous equestrian portrait of Charles V. To turn from these images of majesty to the charming pictures of the royal children is to gain a fuller understanding of the artist's humanity and perception. Still another facet of his complex personality is revealed in the beautiful double portrait of Thomas Killigrew and Thomas Carew. It was through works of this quality that Van Dyck was able to effect a revolution in English taste and to impart a new direction to English art.

Further Reading

There is no good modern biography of Van Dyck. The best book in English is still Sir Lionel Cust, Anthony van Dyck: An Historical Study of His Life and Works (1900), which presents a full and well-documented account of the artist's life but is less satisfactory in dealing with the pictures. Despite its brevity, the chapter on Van Dyck in H. Gerson and E. H. ter Kuile, Art and Architecture in Belgium, 1600-1800 (trans. 1960), offers an authoritative estimate of the painter's genius and his place in Flemish art.

Additional Sources

Brown, Christopher, Van Dyck, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983, 1982. □

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Van Dyck, Anthony (1599–1641)

VAN DYCK, ANTHONY (15991641)

VAN DYCK, ANTHONY (15991641), Flemish painter. Born in Antwerp, Anthony van Dyck divided his career between his native Southern Netherlands, Italy, and England. Before he died at the age of forty-two, he had become the most influential portraitist in Europe. His portraits evoke the sitters' actual or desired rank as well as a sense of individuality, despite their idealization. Although he remains best known for his portraits, Van Dyck's ambition and talent extended to more prestigious history subjects, including religious and secular narratives in which he emphasized psychological states and relationships (for example, The Mystic Marriage of the Blessed Herman Joseph, 1630, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum). Throughout his career Van Dyck departed from gender stereotypes more often than other artists, favoring subjects with passive men, and innovatively portrayed several women as glancing down at the viewer (for example, Marchesa Elena Grimaldi, 1623, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.).

The son of a silk merchant, Van Dyck began his professional training at the age of ten with Hendrik van Balen, the most expensive figure painter in Antwerp. While still in his teens he produced accomplished works and apparently even ran his own studio at the age of sixteen before officially becoming a master in the Guild of St. Luke. Because the young Van Dyck shifted easily between different styles, the dating of his early works remains disputed. He could adapt to the style of the older Rubens, in whose studio he worked as an assistant helping in the execution of such works as the cartoons for tapestries illustrating the history of the Roman general Decius Mus. In such cases he applied paint smoothly and depicted massive, muscular figures in a more ambiguous space than was typical of Rubens. Spatial ambiguity remained a stylistic characteristic throughout Van Dyck's career as a means of intensifying his emphasis on psychological rather than corporeal presence. Early paintings done in his own style, with oil paint applied in broader, looser strokes, reveal his lifelong admiration for the work of Titian (Betrayal of Christ, Prado, Madrid). Multiple versions exist of several early narrative subjects, the betrayal of Christ being a case in point. In planning such compositions, he made drawing after drawing to test alternative possibilities.

Portraits painted in Antwerp before 1620 (and again in 16281632) tend to be three-quarter length or smaller, a size suitable for the dwellings of Flemish burghers (Frans Snyders, The Frick Collection, New York). Props such as columns and flowing drapes, however, evoke the palatial settings of nobility, a status to which many of his fellow citizens aspired.

By the time Van Dyck left Antwerp in 1620, his works were as highly valued as Rubens's. He first went to England but by the end of 1621 had moved to Italy, remaining there for seven years and traveling extensively. His sketchbook (London, British Museum) records that he paid special attention to Titian. In Genoa, where he spent the most time, Van Dyck portrayed the city's nobility, such as Marchesa Elena Grimaldi (1623, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). Often shown full-length, they look down at the viewer, increasing the sense of elevated rank suggested by their reserved demeanor. Faces and hands stand out against the tonalities dominated by rich reds and blacks.

In 1628 Van Dyck resettled in his native Antwerp. Visitors to his house mention a "Cabinet de Titian" in which he displayed originals by and copies after Titian. Working with softer value contrasts, Van Dyck expanded his repertoire of portrait poses for compositional reasons and to characterize sitters more fully. This is especially evident in the Iconography, a print series portraying selected European notables, including heads of state, military leaders, scholars, and, unprecedentedly in such a prestigious context, fellow artists such as Jan Brueghel the Elder. At first Van Dyck etched the portraits himself, but had the prints made by engravers after his models.

In 1632 Van Dyck moved once again to England, where art patronage now flourished at a court ruled by Charles I, a discriminating and avid art collector. The king appointed Van Dyck his "principalle" painter and knighted him, raising the artist's status closer to that of the nobility he portrayed as well as entertained. The English portraits (Portrait of King Charles I, 1635, Louvre) differ from their Genoese counterparts in having a brighter palette, a tendency to more relaxed poses, and occasional pastoral associations. They were to have an enormous influence on later English painting. In 16341635 Van Dyck considered resettling permanently in Antwerp but returned to England, where he lived the rest of his short life. His works remain as integral to the history of painting in England and in Italy as in his native Southern Netherlands.

See also Britain, Art in ; Charles I (England) ; Netherlands, Art in the ; Painting ; Rubens, Peter Paul .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brown, Christopher. Van Dyck. Oxford, 1982.

Martin, John Rupert, and Gail Feigenbaum. Van Dyck as Religious Artist. Exh. cat. Princeton, 1979.

Wheelock, Arthur K., Susan J. Barnes, and Julius S. Held, eds. Anthony van Dyck. Exh. cat. Washington, D.C., 1990.

Zirka Zaremba Filipczak

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Van Dyck, Anthony

Van Dyck, Anthony (1599–1641). Portrait painter. In the opinion of Rubens, that master's finest pupil, the Antwerp-born Van Dyck had imbibed in Italy all the influences of Titian before he encountered the connoisseurship of Charles I in England. In 1632 he became ‘Principal Painter in Ordinary to their Majesties’ and was knighted in 1633, undertaking large compositions to project the mystique of the king's royalist convictions. In its range and quality this œuvre, together with many commissions depicting the Caroline aristocracy, was without precedent in England. In the course of one decade, Van Dyck mirrored the frailest of the European monarchies with such mastery that, in British portraiture, only Gainsborough and Lawrence may be considered rivals. Though he never intended to settle in England, and purchased property in Flanders, Van Dyck died in London in December 1641, helplessly witnessing the extinction of a world he had himself gone far to create. As a result of the sales of the royal collection following Charles I's execution, some of Van Dyck's work of the 1630s was lost to England.

David Denis Aldridge

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