Biography: Anthony van Dyck
Anthony Van Dyck, one of the most significant artists of the 17th century, transformed portraiture in Britain by eschewing stiff and formal conventions in favor of a more loose and fluid style.
Anthony Van Dyck, one of the most significant artists of the 17th century, transformed portraiture in Britain by eschewing stiff and formal conventions in favor of a more loose and fluid style. His elegant and frequently personal depictions of European aristocracy, mainly Charles I of England and his court, have made him the most influential portrait painter in Britain for the subsequent 200 years. As a result, other well-known portraitists like Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough were directly influenced by him. Additionally, Van Dyck contributed to the development of the Baroque movement. His depictions of mythological and religious subjects have dramatic compositions and an intimate, human sense of naturalism. By adopting this strategy, he disregarded the influence of classical sculpture and painting, even when doing so required going beyond the methods used by his mentor, Peter Paul Rubens. (The Art Story, n.d.)
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Anthony Van Dyck was the seventh of Frans van Dyck's 12 children. Hendrik van Balen, an accomplished Antwerp painter, took him on as an apprentice when he was ten. Soon after, Rubens, who after 1608 assumed undisputed leadership of art in Antwerp, must have had an impact on him. The Portrait of a Man, the first surviving piece by Van Dyck, was created in 1613. He imitated Rubens' dramatic style in the figural compositions he produced during the first eight years of his career. Still, he painted directly and with a relatively coarse texture rather than using Rubens' technique of enamel-like glazes.
His figures are more angular in their gestures and less harmoniously proportioned, and his color palette is warmer and darker than his mentor's. From the ferocious fanaticism or feverish ecstasy of saints and the brutality of executioners to the voluptuous smiles of satyrs and the drunken stupor of Silenus, companion to Dionysus, the god of wine, he exaggerated the expressions of his figures.
In his early works, Belgian patricians and their wives are typically depicted at bust or knee height; their hands are either holding gloves or other objects or drooping idly over the back or armrest of a chair. His early portraits had plain backgrounds, but Rubens' influence led him to add accessories like columns to enliven the scene. He captured the decor and costume details with exquisite skill. The models appear calm and dignified in his portraits, which are consistently convincing as likenesses. They don't have friendly faces; they have guarded ones.
Van Dyck was a young man. Before turning 19, his father had already declared him to be of legal age when he represented his family in a lawsuit when he was only 18. He was listed as the master of the Antwerp guild in February 1618. It is unknown when he first entered Rubens' studio, but on July 17, 1620, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, received a letter stating that van Dyck was still there and that his works were starting to be valued equally to those of his master.
Rubens enlisted the aid of "van Dyck and some other disciples" in March 1620. But given van Dyck's fully realized personal style during these years, it would probably be more accurate to refer to him as a collaborator rather than a student of Rubens. There is no proof that Rubens attempted to obstruct van Dyck's career, even though the two artists' relationship soured after 1630. He most likely gave him advice during his first visit to England (November 1620 to February 1641) because van Dyck was under the protection of Arundel's earl, a Rubens fan. (Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.)
Van Dyck visited England in 1620 after making a name for himself in Antwerp. He did this to distance himself from his family and step out of Rubens' shadow to advance his career. Anthony may have wanted to leave Antwerp because he had caused a woman to become pregnant, a fact he did not acknowledge until naming Maria-Theresia as his illegitimate daughter in his will on his deathbed.
While in England, he was chosen to serve as King James I's court painter, and he switched his attention from his earlier religiously themed works to portraiture. However, Van Dyck did not enjoy life in court, perhaps due to his reserved personality and ardent Catholic beliefs. He also developed depression for the first time in England, beginning a lifelong battle with the illness. His duty complicated his desire to leave England to the court, but Lord Arundel, who along with his wife would become essential patrons of the artist, arranged an eight-month leave of absence in 1621. Anthony Van Dyck was only supposed to be gone for eight months, but he stayed away from England for 11 years.
In November 1621, he first went to Antwerp before traveling to Italy, staying in Genoa before moving to Rome. Here, he drew numerous sketches that later came to be known as his Italian Sketchbook, which also contained drawings of paintings by Titian particular that he had studied. He also visited Bologna, Florence, and Venice during his journey, where he ran into Lady Arundel, who accompanied him to Mantua and Milan. After she sailed back to England, she tried to persuade him to return to King James' court, but she was unsuccessful, and he remained in Italy.
Family problems brought Van Dyck back to Antwerp in 1627. These included his sister's passing and a subsequent legal battle to stop his in-laws from claiming what was left of his family inheritance. Despite these difficulties, he had amassed a sizeable amount of wealth by this point, which allowed him to create his impressive art collection, which included several Titian paintings. He also joined the Confraternity of Bachelors, a prestigious religious organization, while he was in Antwerp, where he later accepted the position of court painter to Archduchess Isabella. Only King James' passing, which freed Van Dyck from his duties at the English court, made this possible. (The Art Story, n.d.)
On December 9, 1641, Anthony van Dyck passed away, about a week after the birth of his lone legitimate child. Due to the ongoing political unrest, working in England became more and more challenging as he neared the end of his life. Given that Van Dyck depended heavily on the aristocracy as a source of income, this conflict created uncertainty in his life. He had developed a severe illness by the time he arrived in England. Even though he was Catholic, his tomb was located in the Anglican St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Sadly, the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed his final resting place. Nearly 30 notable people's tombs were located in the old cathedral. Beginning two years later, plans for the new cathedral took two more years to complete. In 1913, a memorial was erected to recognize and honor the lives of those interred in the old cathedral. (TheCollector, 2020)
The Art Story. (n.d.). www.theartstory.org. Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://www.theartstory.org/artist/van-dyck-anthony/
Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). www.britannica.com. Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Anthony-Van-Dyck
TheCollector. (2020, August 16). www.thecollector.com. https://www.thecollector.com/anthony-van-dyck-painter/