Anthony van Dyck

Anthony van Dyck

Anthony van Dyck is a Flemish painter and printmaker, baroque master of parade portraiture and religious painting. He began his career in the time, when after dividing the country into Netherlands and Flanders, the biggest city of Flanders, Antwerp, was gradually reviving after the war and turning into a prominent cultural center.

Childhood and early period

He was born on the March, 22nd, 1599 in Antwerp, in a family of a successful tradesman Frans van Dyck. His mother (who was a second wife of Frans) died, when Anthony was eight years old. In the age of ten he became a student of an Antwerp painter Hendrick van Balen, who taught future master for four years. From 1614 van Dyck started working on his own.

In 1618 he was accepted to the St. Luke guild. The earliest preserved pieces of Anthony are dated with this year – sketch portraits of old people. In 1617 he got acquainted with Peter Paul Rubens and started working in his workshop, assisting him in completing some commissions. After finishing a serious of painting about roman consul Decius Mus, Rubens proposes van Dyck to participate in the most grandiose project of Flemish religious painting – murals of Jesuit church that was erected in Antwerp.

At the same time van Dyck creates some independent canvases, likes “Samson and Delilah”, “St. Martin and the beggar”. From vaccillating imitating Ruben’s stylistic, like in “Adoration of the shepherds” he quickly progressed to the pictures of higher artistic quality, like “Drunken Silenus”. Though it’s based on one of Rubens’ compositions and inherits its palette, it still demonstrates some features that immediately allow to recognize early creation of Anthony. It’s noticeable for a special flickering manner, audacious composition and comparative to the Rubens levity in rendering of volumes.

During several years of partnership with Rubens, van Dyck fully mastered technique of oil painting and compositional exquisiteness he teacher was known for. He produces some works on religious and mythological themes. Among most important ones, referring to the early period, “Christ Bearing the Cross”, “St. Martin Dividing his Cloak”, “Christ Crowned with Thorns” and “The Capture of Christ” should be named.

Anthony’s true talent revealed itself in portraiture that occupied rather law place in the European hierarchy of genres. But Flanders had rather developed tradition of portraiture by the 17th cent. Van Dyck painted hundered of portraits and self-portraits and introduced a new type of representational portrait. He tried to capture intellectual spiritual and emotional world of his contemporaries, a person’s character. We see mostly prosperous bourgeoisie on his early portraits. Some of them (like “Portrait of Frans Snyders with his Wife”) inherited Dutch tradition of family portraits.

Italian period

After spending a years as a court painter in England, in 1621 the artist left for Italy, where he stayed for six years. This was the time, when his style of portrait painting had completely shaped up. He visited a lot of Italian cities – Genova, Mantua, Rome and Venice, where, as Rubens before, was inspired by Tintoretto, Veronese, Titian. Van Dyck was especially attracted by intense, calid and gold coloring of Titian’s masterpieces. Apart from studying Italian art, he made some drawing from nature that were included into “Italian album”.

In 1624 the painter received an invitation from the viceroy Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, for whom he made a portrait and a big altarpiece for the church Oratorio del Rosario “Madonna del Rosario” in Palermo (the largest order from church in Italian period). Working mainly in Genova, Anthony became one of the favorite portraitist of Italian aristocracy. It comes as now surprise, as the painter made brilliant images, recognized for their splendor and refinement. However, the world was slightly idealized in them, as the painter showed his models full-size, with beautiful palaces, terraces or majestic landscapes in the background. The significance of his heroes was underlined by attention to the details of their expensive clothing. Specialists mark out portaits of Guido Bentivoglio, “An Equestrian Portrait of the Marquis de Brignogli”, “Portrait of a Genoese senator” and “Genoan hauteur from the Lomellini family” for their psychological preciseness and artistic level.

Apart from this lavish paintings, van Dyck made some modest, free of pretenciousness portraits, distinguished by their intimacy and pshycologism. Among them – portrait of old people with the imprint of experience (“Portrait of Genoese senator” and “portrait of Genoese senator’s wife”) and kids (“The de Franchi Children” – first children group portrait ever known).

Back to Antwerp

In 1627 Anthony van Dyck came back to Antwerp. New period occurred to be the high-point of his creative activity. But again the artist’s altarpieces were overshadowed by his portraits. Being a court painter of Infant Isabelle, van Dyck receives commissions not only from burgers and people close to him, but from Flemish and Spanish aristocracy.

Pomposity and theatricality of Italian period was replaced but more austere, but still elegant manner. Vivid, precisely captured characters of politicians, prelates, men of world and, of course, his colleagues – artists, are especially praised by the connoisseurs: portraits of Flemish artists Caspar de Crayer, Hendrik Snyers, Martin Ryckaert, philologist and publisher Jan van der Wouter and Jesuit, geographist and mathematician Jean-Charles della Faille. He continued to pay a lot of attention to clothing and accessories, but still his manner of applying paint becomes even more liberate and broad.

Between 1625 and 1633 Anthony van Dyck worked on the gallery of graphical portraits that received the name “Iconography”. For this series of etchings he made preparatory drawings, part of them engraved himself, part entrusted to professional printmakers. Portraits were divided into three groups: monarchs and military leaders (16 portraits), statesmen and philosophers (12 portraits), artists and collectors (52 portraits). “Iconography” combines historical and aesthetical value.

English period

In 1632 King Carl I invited the artist to London, where he spent the last decade of his life. Van Dyck was knighted, appointed as the main painter on the service of His Royal Highness and received the title.
The type of representative portrait Anthony elaborated in Italy was also to the tastes of British nobility, who wished to surround iself with the halo of solemnity. Portraits of the Earls of Bedford, Northumberland and Pembroke, Lord Wharton and Lord-John-Stuart with his brother Lord Bernard Stuart witness virtuosity of the master, as he added to pride to their posture and grace to their poses and gestures.
Painter creates numerous portraits of the King (around 30), Queen and their children. His “Portrait of Carl I” is considered to be one of the best late works.

In England, overloaded by various orders, van Dyck had to work simultaneously on several portraits. As his fellow banker Eberhard Jabach recalled, the artist could devote only an hour a day for the customer and left hands, dressing and background for his assistants. The latters often invited special models for finishing canvases.

In 1634 Anthony had a short travel to his motherland. The guild of St. Luke awarded him with the highest reward, instating him as an honored Dean; his name was inscribed in capital letters in the list of the guild’s members.

Last years

In 1638 he married Mary Ruthven, Lady in Waiting to the Queen. This way the master was accepted to the circles of English aristocracy.

In the last years of his life, Anthony was preoccupied with ambitious projects of large-scale decorative works – a cycle of tapestries for the Whitehall palace in London, murals of the main galleries of Louvre, for which he undertook two visits to Paris. Unfortunately, having no success in these intentions, ill artist came back to London and soon died in 1641, in the age of 42. He was buried in London’s St. Paul Cathedral according to his will.

Anthony van Dyck created about 900 canvases – a huge number for a person, whose creative activity lasted only for 20 years. His fame sometimes even outlasted the fame of his clients, as we recognize his hand, but not all names of the people on his pictures were preserved till nowadays. It was an individuality, whose legacy had a huge influence on the development of English and European school of portraiture.