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Who is... Van Dyck?

Van Dyck's signature strokes can be seen in the painting that shows Charles I returning from a hunt

ONE OF Peter Paul Rubens' most famous students, Anthony Van Dyck was born on March 22, 1599, in Antwerp. The seventh of twelve children, Van Dyck was a precocious talent. Son of a wealthy silk merchant, Van Dyck began his apprenticeship with the historical painter Hendrik van Balen at the age of 11 and was admitted to the Antwerp Guild of Painters before his 19th birthday in 1618. In the next two years, Van Dyck served as apprentice to Peter Paul Rubens, and from Rubens he learnt the art of reproducing textures and surfaces.

In 1620, he went to England and spent a few months in the service of James I. He was in Italy from 1621 to 1627.

Italian sojourn

It was in Italy that he came to his own as he toned down the Flemish robustness and moved towards languidness and melancholy that was a great success with the Genoese nobility.

His portraits in these years featured idealised figures with proud erect stances.

A self-portrait of the artist.

The influence of Titian and Bellini are to be seen in the use of rich colours. He returned to Antwerp in 1627 and remained there till 1632 executing many religious works.

He left for England in 1632 and on July 5 of the same year Charles I knighted him. He was court painter to Charles and was very much in demand as a portrait painter. Van Dyck's painting in this period was luminous with sparkling highlights in gold and silver. To the accusation that Van Dyck painted flattering portraits, we have the words of Countess of Sussex who, when she saw her portrait, is said to have commented that she felt "ill-favoured and quite out of love with myself."

His famous portrait of Charles I returning from a hunt is a perfect example of aspirational portraiture as the painting shows the monarch as "a figure of matchless elegance, of unquestioned authority and high culture, the patron of the arts and the upholder of the divine right of kings." (E.H. Gombrich).

Van Dyck's influence on portrait painting is enormous. Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds are generally accepted as his artistic heirs. Van Dyck died relatively young at 42 in London on December 9, 1641 and was buried in Saint Paul's Cathedral.


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