Anthony Van Dyck

1599-1641. Flemish painter. Born to a bourgeois family in Antwerp, he was by seventeen already an independent artist, and two years later was admitted into the reputable Guild of Saint Luke as a master. In common with all the younger artists of Antwerp, Van Dyck was drawn into Rubens's* circle. His exact relationship with Rubens is difficult to define, although Rubens referred to him as a disciple. Van Dyck worked for him for two years, during which time the former carried on a sizable practice in portrait painting. In 1620 Van Dyck made his first visit to England, where he was briefly employed by James I. Two years later he went to Italy, where from his base in Genoa he visited the major cities. In 1632 he became court painter to Charles I, by whom he was knighted; yet his life was unsettled and unsatisfied. Van Dyck returned to Antwerp a number of times, each time hoping for an important religious commission.

His style passed through four phases which are generally labeled according to his place of activity at the time: thus his first and second Antwerp period, his Genoese and English periods. A fine example of his early Antwerp style is Christ Crowned with Thorns, painted when he was no more than twenty. In this and other works he brought an insistence on the down-to-earth realism of sacred events, as is evident in the bold, bare feet of the kneeling man who hands Christ the derisory scepter. Van Dyck interprets the scene at its most brutal level. Pathos is created by the relaxed, resigned body of Christ in comparison with the aggressive energy of His persecutors. The only sign of life in Christ is a raised index finger which reminds the onlooker that Christ suffered for mankind.

His output was large for a man who died at forty-two; yet there is no single great work by which he is remembered today. His compositions do not stand out against the mass of his portraits, and he lacks Rubens's robustness and fire. In England, however, he long remained the perfect example to which all portrait painters aspired.