Sir Anthony van Dyck was a painter of Flemish origin from the Baroque period, associated with the Flemish school of painting. Following a successful career passing through Italy and Southern Netherlands, he became England's leading court painter. The artist was educated by the highly celebrated and key figure in the Flemish Baroque, Peter Paul Rubens, and became a masterful portraitist. Van Dyck was the most important Flemish painter of his time, second only to his master. The painter was highly influenced by Italian art. Titian's influence can be felt in his elegant images and refined color use. Van Dyck is often considered one of the most important of the 17th century.
The Baroque artist Anthony van Dyck was born on March 22, 1599, in the Spanish Netherlands (modern-day Belgium). He was born as Antoon van Dyck, his Flemish name, and baptized as Antonio. His grandfather Antoon, from whom his name was inspired, was also a painter. Antoon and his wife Cornelia started a highly successful silk business, maintaining clients in major cities link Paris and London.
He was the seventh son of Frans van Dyck and Maria Cuypers. The Van Dyck family was quite wealthy. Frans helped his mother Cornelia from the start of the business and, after his father died, becoming a distinguished silk merchant himself. With the family growing after Anthony was born, they moved to a big house that was luxuriously decorated.
Van Dyck's talent was noticed at a very young age, and he started studying painting under Hendrick van Balen at only ten years old. Van Balen, the leader of St. Luke's Guild, was considered the city's best painter. His first documented painting is from 1613. Van Dyck showed fast progress, so he decided to open a shop along with Jan The Younger Brueghel.
In that same year, Anthony received a commission to make a series on the 12 apostles. The painting Youthful Self-portrait was done in that year, and it's the first of many he concluded throughout his life.
The artist's reputation was already very robust. From 1616 on, he became the chief assistant to the renowned master Peter Paul Rubens, who referred to him as his best pupil when van Dyck was only 19 years old. The younger Flemish painter learned a lot from Rubens, and his influence can be seen in van Dyck's use of color and elegant brushwork. In 1618, the Baroque painter was accepted in the Antwerp painters Guild of Saint Luke as a free master, but his partnership with Rubens didn't come to an end.
Achilles and The Daughters of Lykomedes is one of the artworks that the two painters worked on together. Rubens' influence upon van Dyck wasn't limited to the artistic field. Since the Flemish master was one of the most famous artists of his time, the younger van Dyck got acquainted with a good deal of aristocrats and the wealthy bourgeoisie. This network he had contact with early in his life was resourceful throughout his career.
In 1620, Rubens was responsible for the artistic project of the Jesuitic church of Antwerp. He was the one that made the project and its drawings, but van Dyck was the one that executed the paintings. This project represented the beginning of his independence, as it led to other commissions for portraits, such as Portrait of Cornelis van der Geest.
By the end of 1620, van Dyck traveled to England. This change in scenery was due to the insistence of noblemen who were close to Rubens and excited by the work of the young artist from Antwerp. In a short time, Anthony was allowed a pension of 100 quid a year by King James I. He was also allowed to travel for eight months. A work that dates from this period is Portrait of Thomas Howard, count of Arundel and his wife Alathea Talbot.
The count of Arundel granted van Dyck the opportunity to travel, and he stayed in Antwerp for eight months. Even though he spent a brief time in Britain, it was enough for him to come in contact with different art and an environment that gave him a new sense of freedom. During his stay in his homeland, he made paintings that show a departure from his more traditional work, employing unusual compositions and intense colors. Isabella Brandt, a portrait of his master's first wife, and Double Portrait of the Painter Frans Snyders and his Wife are works from this period.
Anthony van Dyck arrived in Italy in 1621. Before that, he was already fascinated by the works of Titian. The Italian painter made a significant impression on him, regarding his softer representation of form and use of color, serving as a new stylistic reference for him on top of Rubens'. During the six years he spent there, he studied the Italian masters and became famous as a portraitist.
The first city he visited was Genoa. The Flemish artist fixated his residence in the house of Cornelis de Wael, a fellow Baroque painter. After arriving there, Anthony produced in a short period more than 300 paintings. Quickly he made associations with the local nobility, enjoying the fame that Rubens had and his image as the master's successor.
In 1622, the painter arrived in Rome, where he concluded several works commissioned by the higher circles of the Catholic church, such as Portrait of the Cardinal Guido Bentivoglio, a portrayal of the soon-to-be pope Urbano VIII, and Crucifixion. During his stay, he also dedicated himself to make studies of masterpieces located in Rome, which later became titled the Italian Sketchbook.
After Rome, the artist went to Florence where he stayed as a guest in the Medici house. He traveled for short periods to the cities around and then arrived in Venice in the winter of 1622. He then proceeded to study the work of masters, as he did before in Rome, but focusing on Titian. More than 200 pages of his notebook are sketches based on Titian's work.
Anthony is then invited by the king of Sicily to paint a portrait of him. The artist spent months in the city of Palermo, where he met Sofonisba Anguissola, already an elderly lady. Sofonisba was one of the first female painters in Europe to receive professional recognition and became the Spanish court's official portraitist. The Flemish artist nurtured admiration for Anguissola, with a surviving sketch of her in his notebooks, which he used as a reference for Portrait of Sofonisba Anguissola.
After the stay in Palermo, the artist returned to Genoa. He left the city because the plague had struck Palermo, killing even the king, Emanuele Filiberto, who had invited the artist there. He finished his masterpiece Madonna of the Rosary, considered his most accomplished religious work of the period.
Affected by Titian, Van Dyck broke from the severe catholicism he experienced in his upbringing and started to depict erotic and mythological scenes. The turning point is the painting Vertumnus and Pomona, from 1625, which represents the seduction of the goddess Pomona, associated with abundance by Vertumnus, responsible for the change of seasons.
The death of the artist's sister was the motivation for him to come back to his homeland. At this moment, it's notable how the artist's production had a religious turn: he entered a Jesuit institution and worked mainly with biblical themes.
Anthony started working for the Spanish court, which ruled the Low Countries at the time. This patronage happened due to his fame and success as a portrait painter, giving him high prestige and many new clients because of it. The refinement and attention to detail that his work reached can be seen in one of his masterpieces, Portrait of Maria de Tassis.
The number of clients that van Dyck received only increased. He portrayed the Queen of France and her son, Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, and the sons of Frederick V, ex-King of Bohemia. The painter's constant work for aristocrats made his fame grow, and soon he caught King Charles' attention.
King Charles was an admirer of the arts and held many painters in his court. When he hired van Dyck in 1632, he became the only artist in the Royal family's service. Eventually, the painter developed an intimate relationship with the court, painting several portraits of the King and Queen, as well as their offspring. He also executed many paintings for King Charles himself.
The artist continued to paint for various distinguished members of society until his late-career. Documents suggest that in 1641 van Dyck was recuperating from a long illness, which forced him to leave France, where he was planning to depict Cardinal Richelieu.
Sir Anthony van Dyck died in London on December 9, 1641.