Dyck, Anthony van

(1599-1641)
   Anthony van Dyck was a child prodigy who by 14 was executing portraits for important patrons. The son of a prosperous cloth merchant from Flanders, van Dyck's career was overshadowed by that of Peter Paul Rubens, who some believe to have been his teacher. In fact, wherever van Dyck went, Rubens had already been. In 1621, he arrived in Italy where he had the opportunity to study the works of the Venetians, and particularly Titian. In the 1630s, he was in England, working as court painter to Charles I. When Rubens died in 1640, van Dyck went back to Antwerp hoping to take his place as head of the Flemish School. The archdukes of Flanders wrote to King Philip IV of Spain that van Dyck was arrogant and undependable, thereby ending his aspirations. There was reason for the archdukes to speak of the master in these terms. In Italy, he was called thepittore cavalieresco (cavalier painter) because of his many servants, expensive wardrobe, and refusal to associate with anyone in a lower social rank. In England, he entertained frequently and lavishly, excesses that may have hastened his death.
   In 1620, van Dyck painted the portrait Isabella Brant (Washington, National Gallery) of Rubens' first wife. Perhaps the work was intended as a gift for Rubens and Isabella prior to van Dyck's trip to Italy. The loose brushwork, choice of palette, elaborate costume, and red background drapery to emphasize the sitter are all Rubensian elements. The portraits Cardinal Bentivoglio (1622; Florence, Palazzo Pitti) and Elena Grimaldi (1625; Washington, National Gallery) van Dyck painted in Rome and Genoa respectively. The first shows the cardinal in deep thought after having read a letter. The second stresses the sitter's social standing as she is sumptuously dressed and accompanied by a slave boy who holds a parasol over her. In Sicily, van Dyck was commissioned to paint a series of works for the Oratory of the Rosary in Palermo, including the Madonna of the Rosary, to commemorate the recovery in 1624 of the remains of St. Rosalie. In England, he painted for Endymion Porter, a member of the royal court, one of his most admired works, Rinaldo and Armida (1629; Baltimore, Museum of Art), based on Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata. Van Dyck's Lady Digby as Prudence (1633; London, National Portrait Gallery) also belongs to this period, as does Le Roi à la Chasse (Portrait of Charles I) (1635; Paris, Louvre), one of the most remarkable royal portraits ever rendered. Van Dyck revolutionized portrait painting in England. Before him, miniaturist Elizabethan portraiture was the norm and, though Paul van Somer, also from Antwerp, and the Dutch Daniel Mytens were in London in the second decade of the 17th century and brought their realistic mode to England, it was not until van Dyck entered the scene that English portraiture was finally infused with life.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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