Antoon van Dyck, the son of a wealthy silk merchant, was born in Antwerp on 22 March 1599. Since early childhood he demonstrated considerable artistic talent and at the age of ten was accepted into Hendrik van Balen’s atelier. He opened his own studio in 1615 and three years later was already a member of the painters’ guild. During that period he began working with Rubens, whom he assisted in making the cartoons of the Decius Mus Addressing the Legions for Franco Cattaneo (1617-1618) and decorating the ceiling in the church of Jesus in Antwerp (1620). After a brief stay in England (1620), he lived in Italy from 1621 to 1627, mainly in Genoa. The artist made two trips to Rome, in 1622 and 1627, he also visited Florence, Bologna and Venice. During his sojourn in Palermo (April to September 1624) the Confraternity of the Rosary of St. Dominic gave him the commission for the Madonna of the Rosary. In July of the following year the artist went to Marseilles and Aix-en-Provence to see Peirsec, a friend of Rubens. Upon his return to Antwerp in 1626 he began working intensely and even became court painter to the Archduchess Isabelle (1628-1629). Then, in 1629, after another English sojourn, he painted Rinaldo and Armida for King Charles I. In 1632 Van Dyck was traveling again, first he stopped in Holland at the court of Frederick Henry, then in Brussels and finally in London where he was knighted and appointed official painter to the King. He returned home for a brief period in 1634 and in October was appointed “honorary dean” of the Guild of St. Luke. He went back to London the following year. He painted many portraits for the English king, including Charles I in Three Positions, that would serve as a model for Benin’s bust of the king. His output was almost exclusively dedicated to portraits, of members of the royal family and the entire English aristocracy. Upon the urging of the king he married Mary Ruthven, lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria (1639), and a daughter Justiniana was born to the couple two years later. In 1640 he went to Paris where he hoped to obtain the commission for the Grande Gallerie du Louvre which was actually given to Poussin. He returned to London early in 1641, and died in December of that same year. Sir Anthony van Dyck was buried in St. Paul’s, but his tomb was destroyed in the great fire of London in 1666.
This is the first autograph family portrait that has reached us, and the only surviving one from his early period in Antwerp. The general arrangement, characterized by a lack of spatial depth and the frontal poses, recalls the famous Portrait of Jan Brueghel the Elder with His Family by Rubens (1613, London, Courtauld Institute). With brilliant intuition Van Dyck made the children the focus of the composition, making them the link between the parents, the ideal apex of an overturned triangle.
The De Franchi Children
The two crows, heraldic symbols of the De Franchi family, recently made it possible to identify the three youths. By painting them outdoors, on the steps of a colonnade against a dark landscape, Van Dyck was actually looking to late Lombard-Venetian Renaissance models (Titian, Veronese, Moretto). The low view point (that enlarges the figures), the static, stately poses and the heavy shadows link this painting to the Genoese noblewoman and her on that is in Washington (Paola Adorno, Marchesa Brignole Sale and Her Son).
Van Dyck may have painted this portrait while in Rome; it is based on a drawing that inspired at least three other self-portraits. It is strikingly similar to the profile of the artist by Bellori: aristocratic and ambitious, removed from the hedonistic Flemish and Dutch painters who lived in the papal city. “His gentlemanly manners rather than those of a private man, and then shown in rich clothing [...] and since he was lordly by nature and desirous of being famous, therefore, in addition to drapings he wore plumed hats and belts, he wore golden chains across his chest, with a retinue of servants.” A warm evening light that strikes his face and tapered hands breaks the cold equilibrium of the white and black tones.
Portrait of a Genoese Noblewoman and Her Daughter
While in Genoa Van Dyck painted many double portraits of local nobles. In this painting, one of the finest of its kind, he showed extraordinary skill in portraying the two apparently natural looking figures that are actually out of proportion in both height and volume. The portrait of the girl may have been inspired by Titian’s painting of Clarice Strozzi (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie), but it is imbued with an entirely original liveliness of feeling.
The Tribute Money
Titian’s influence weighs heavily on this painting. It is a based on the one Titian painted for Philip II (National Gallery, London) that Van Dyck became acquainted with through an engraving by Martino Rota. Imitatio, emulation of the great masters of the past to learn their technique and surpass their formal results is confirmed in the sketches contained in Van Dyck’s Taccuino italiano, a sort of visual diary he kept during his sojourn. Even though Flemish traits can be seen in two Pharisees, the face of the Christ, the sense of color and the equilibrium of the shapes attest to the painting’s Renaissance legacy.Iconography
Vertumnus and Pomona
The subject is taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Pomona, the lovely wood nymph yields to the declarations of love from Vertumnus, god of the seasons, who entered her private garden disguised as a kindly old woman. The arrangement, the figures, the light and the expressive motion all contribute skillfully to rendering the theme of love awakening. Pomona’s look – a blend of vulnerability and insecurity, are perfectly suited to the moment of her yielding. Van Dyck drew his inspiration for her pose from Titian’s Danae (he had seen both versions, in the Farnese and Doria collections, in Rome and Genoa, respectively), while his Cupid is based on Veronese’s models.
Paola Adorno, Marchesa Brignole Sale and Her Son
This painting seems to be set in a sixteenth century terrace overlooking Via Balbi or Strada Nuova in Genoa. The impressive classic-style architecture and the two figures are portrayed from below. The group is characterized by severity and is organized around the contrast between the son and his mother: he is portrayed frontally in brightly colored clothes, while she is shown in profile in a severe dark dress. The playful little dog behind the figures lightens the tone of the entire painting: Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough would use the same device in the following century. As to the identity of the severe-looking lady, many believe that she is the Marchesa di Brignole Sale whom Van Dyck portrayed on several occasions.
Rinaldo and Armida
The scene is based on a passage from Gerusalemme liberata by Torquato Tasso (Canto XIV lines 57-68) that tells of the sudden passion of the sorceress Armida for the Christian prince Rinaldo. The power of love, a recurring theme in many of Van Dyck’s secular paintings is portrayed here in a manner worthy of Titian and Paolo Veronese. The bright colors, broad brushstrokes, and the upward view give the composition expressive vigor that is also rich in references to famous Renaissance paintings (the singing nymph on the right is a rivisitation of the nude in Sacred and Profane Love by Titian). Charles I, a well-known admirer of Tasso, bought the painting in 1629 and it enjoyed a great success at court.
Portrait of Maria Luisa De Tassis
Van Dyck painted this portrait upon his return from Italy when the subject, daughter of the canon of the Antwerp cathedral, was around nineteen years old. The extraordinary quality of the painting that many consider to be Van Dyck’s masterpiece, is his dual rendering of the girl: religious and virginal on the one hand, capricious and provocative on the other. The richly made French-style dress, the feather fan, the fine jewels are all rendered with fluid brush strokes and quick touches of the palette knife. The face, with its lively and sly look, was painted with greater care.
Children of Charles I
The queen of England, Henrietta Maria sent this painting to her sister, Cristina, duchess of Savoia in the autumn of 1635. Charles I did not like the painting, because he objected to the idea of portraying the eldest of the his three sons, the heir to the throne (the one patting the dog) “in childish clothes.” Actually, this is a masterpiece of modern portraiture: the artist brings the candor and innocence of childhood to the adult world through elegant, silvery tones and simple, unaffected poses.
Charles I in Three Positions
This stands out among the many portraits Van Dyck painted of the king for its originality. It was sent to Rome, to Gianlorenzo Bernini’s workshop in order that the sculptor use it as the model for a marble bust of the king. Van Dyck had probably been inspired by Lorenzo Lotto’s Portrait of a Man in Three Positions (at the time it was still attributed to Titian and was part of the English royal collections, today it is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). The sovereign’s melancholy expression (against a leaden sky) prompted some to speak of his premonition of his tragic death, but actually it reveals the wise man’s considerations on the divine nature of temporal power.
Portrait of Mary Villiers and Her Son the Duke of Arran
Van Dyck painted several portraits of Mary Villiers, daughter of the Duke of Buckingham, one of the highest dignitaries at the court of Charles I in London. In this, life-size canvas he portrayed her with her son, creating one of those allegorical portraits that brought him so much fortune with English clients. This painting may readily be linked to the woman’s marriage to Sir Charles Herbert in January 1635: the child-Cupid holds an arrow in his right hand as he gazes at his mother to show that he did indeed hit his target. Bellori praised this painting as one of the masterpieces of the artist’s English period.