Blackfriars (near London)
An accomplished history painter, Anthony Van Dyck is best known today as a portraitist. In addition to his consummate technical skill, Van Dyck's ability to capture the facial features of his portrait subjects and to characterize their social status soon made him much sought after by Europe's nobility and aristocracy. His portraits of the first Genoese period and later, which were initially based on the Italian portraits of his mentor Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), created the vocabulary of aristocratic portraiture that remained preeminent until the nineteenth century and that helped to shape England's great portrait tradition. A skilled etcher, he organized the creation of the Iconography, a series of etchings made after his portraits of the leading artists, collectors, nobles and scholars of the day. After his death included engraved portraits after Van Dyck as well as his portrait etchings, eventually grew to some 190 portraits, was published frequently, circulated widely, and had a major influence on portraiture. Born in 1599, the seventh child of a well-to-do Antwerp merchant dealing in silks and fancy goods, Van Dyck was apprenticed in 1609 to Hendrick van Balen (1575-1632), a leading Antwerp painter of religious pictures and Italianate mythological scenes. His confidently-painted self-portrait of 1613-1614 shows the exceptional ability he developed by his early teenage years. By this time he was probably frequenting Rubens’s studio; his presence was recorded in Rubens’s portrait of the teenaged Van Dyck from 1613-1615. The scanty contemporary evidence suggests a changing collaborative relationship between the two artists, as Van Dyck moved from the position of a gifted apprentice to that of the most important member of Rubens's large studio. Although Van Dyck registered as a master with the Antwerp painters’ Guild of Saint Luke in 1618, marking the formal end of his apprenticeship with Rubens, and had set up an independent studio with Jan Brueghel the Younger, he continued to work in Rubens’s studio until 1620. Van Dyck traveled to London that fall, carrying letters from Rubens to clients. While there he painted the portrait of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (1585-1646) and performed a “special service” for King James I (1566-1625) for which he was awarded a pension of 100 pounds per annum. After returning to Antwerp in March 1621, he traveled to Genoa in October. Van Dyck worked in Italy for six years, with wealthy Genoa as his base, but also worked in Rome, Venice, Palermo and other cities. He painted many portraits of the nobility in those cities, perhaps as may as 72 in Genoa alone, as well as numerous religious scenes. He returned to Antwerp in 1627 and worked in the Low Countries for five years, creating portraits of such luminaries as Dutch Stadtholder Frederik Hendrik of Orange, (1584-1647), Archduchess Isabella of Spain (1566-1633, the Princess-Regent and then Governor of the Netherlands, receiving a gold chain worth 750 guilders), and Queen Marie de’Medici of France (1573-1642). King Charles I (1600-1649) invited him to return to London in 1632, where he lived for most of the rest of his life (with working visits to the Continent). He become the principal painter to the King and Queen, created numerous portraits of Charles I and his family, was knighted by Charles I in July and lived in a house rent-free as a guest of the Crown. By all accounts Van Dyck enjoyed a lavish lifestyle in London. He married Mary Ruthven (ca. 1622-1645), a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, in 1639. The Antwerp Guild of St. Luke made him an honorary dean in 1640, an honor only given previously to Rubens. In failing health, he was unable to complete a commission from the Archers’ Guild for an altarpiece for the Antwerp Cathedral and failed to secure the commission to decorate Grande Galerie of the Louvre. He did complete the wedding portrait of Prince William II of Orange (1626-1650) and Henrietta Mary Stuart (1631-1660), daughter of Charles I, in 1641. After visiting Antwerp and Paris in the fall, where he declined a portrait commission due to illness, Van Dyck returned to London in time for the birth of his daughter on December 1. He died on December 9, 1641, and was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral. His tomb, a monument depicting Van Dyck as the Genius of Painting, was destroyed along with the rest of St. Paul’s in London’s Great Fire of 1666. (Rev. TNB 3/2012) Selected bibliography: Depauw, Carl and Ger Luijten. Anthony van Dyck as a printmaker. Exhibition catalog. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum and Antwerp: Antwerpen Open, 1999. Wheelock, Arthur, Susan Barnes and Julius Held. Anthony van Dyck. Exhibition catalog. Washington: National Gallery of Art and New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1990.