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Sir Anthony Van Dyck

Other names: Antoon


A painter, and etcher, Van Dyck was apprenticed by his father to Hendrick Van Balen at the age of 10, and at sixteen he entered the studio of Rubens as his pupil and assistant.  Employed by this great master to prepare black and white drawings from his pictures for the use of the engravers who worked under his eye, and to make cartoons from his sketches, of which the history of Darius in the Liechtenstein Gallery at Vienna may be taken as an example, Van Dyckњs talent developed with astonishing rapidity.  In 1618, he became a master of the Guild of St Luke.

The esteem in which Rubens held him showed itself in numerous acts of kindness, as in 1620, when he procured him a commission from the Jesuits to paint an altarpiece for their church; in 1621, when he presented him to the Countess of Arundel, through whom he obtained access to James I, whose portrait he painted at Windsor; and in the autumn of the same year, when he sent the Chevalier Varni with him to Italy, and gave him a horse for the journey.  Van Dyck reached Rome in February, 1622, but it was not until the following year, after he had visited Florence, Bologna, Venice, and Mantua, that he took up his residence there, and made himself known by painting the admirable portrait of Cardinal Bentivoglio.  Its success, and Van Dyckњs love of display, excited the jealousy of his fellow artists, who made Rome so intolerable to him that he left it for Genoa in June, 1624, and remained there until the next year, when he returned home.  At Antwerp he found enemies who decried him, and waited for commissions; until Rubens bought several of his pictures and set the tide running in his favour.  To this time belong the Crucifixion, in the Church of Notre Dame at Termonde, the St Sebastian, at Munich, and the portrait of the Archduchess Clare Eugenie, in the Gallery at Turin.

After an unsuccessful visit to England in 1627, where he failed to obtain presentation at court for want of favour with the Duke of Buckingham, Van Dyck lived for three years at Antwerp and Brussels, painting many religio-historical pictures and portraits, and etching ten admirable portraits of painters, which are yet unsurpassed.  Meanwhile, one of his friends had given his Rinaldo and Armida to Charles I, who was so delighted with it that in 1630 he invited the painter to England.  In April, 1632, Van Dyck obeyed the summons, and after he had been presented to the King by Sir Kenelm Digby, painted his portrait, that of the Queen, and the great picture of the Royal Family.  In July he was knighted, and appointed court painter, and in October, 1633, had a pension of Б200 a year assigned to him.

During the next nine years he painted 19 portraits of the King, 17 of the Queen, as well as many of their children, at a fixed price of Б50 for half, and Б100 for full-length figures.  Living in a style of splendour far beyond his means, Van Dyck became more and more embarrassed as the troubles of Charles' reign thickened, until, in 1638, he presented his unpaid claims to the King, including his pension for the past five years, payment for many portraits, and for four cartoons prepared for tapestries at Whitehall, which he valued at the enormous sum of Б80,000.  These claims were only partially satisfied when he went to France in 1641, hoping to obtain the commission to paint the galleries at the Louvre, which was given to Poussin through the influence of the Cardinal de Richelieu.  Disappointed, and in broken health, he returned to England via Antwerp.  He wrote his will in December and died a few days later.

For noble use of colour, high-bred elegance of style, and facility, Van Dyck ranks as one of the greatest of painters.  In portraiture he was not surpassed by any great master north or south of the Alps, though in historical and sacred subjects by many; for in such, as a rule, his conceptions are superficial and scenic, rather than profound and natural.

Place of birth: Den Berendans, the Grote Markt, Antwerp
Place of baptism: Onze-Lieve-Vrouweker, the Grote Markt, Antwerp
Place of death: Blackfriars, London
Place of burial: St Paul's Cathedral (tomb destroyed in the Great Fire, 1666)




1. H.C. Matthew, B. Harrison et al. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004-2018.
J.D. Champlin, ed. Cyclopedia of Painters and Paintings, vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913.


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