Saturday, November 17, 2012

A kaleidoscopic view of Anthony Van Dyck´s work

Several facets of a monumental painter’s life are on view at Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Some of Anthony Van Dyck´s portraits can be dated to the period shortly before he left Antwerp in October of 1621 for a seven year stay in Italy. He painted a portrait of Rubens´s wife Isabella Brant as a gift for his master shortly before he left Antwerp.

A curatorial note elaborates: "In these paintings we see the marks of a personal manner, defined by stylized, fluent forms and the elegant poses. These would become trademark features later in his life, making him one of the most influential portrait painters in European art. It is remarkable that an artist who had been so close to Rubens could also paint in such a personal, fluid way; it may be seen as a measure of his will to be independent."

In 1609 Van Dyck was apprenticed to Hendrik van Balen, one of the leading painters in Antwerp. From there he probably went to the studio of Rubens, but it is not clear when this happened. Between approximately 1613 and 1618, the year when he registered as a master in the painters’ guild, he worked in a variety of styles. In what are probably his earliest pictures he appears tentative in his rendering of anatomy. But even then he shows a strong personality and an experimental bent, which can be seen in his taste for rugged types and textured surfaces

In 1618, the year when he became an independent master, Van Dyck painted four portraits which are among only seven dated works made during his youth. In that same year he probably also painted his first public commission: Christ Carrying the Cross made for the church of the Dominicans in Antwerp. From approximately 1617 to 1621 Van Dyck worked in the studio of Rubens, and at the same time painted independently, in a style that combines the influence of Rubens with a strong personal manner, visible in the painterly passages and the rugged, un-idealised facial types.

Throughout his youth we perceive in the art of Van Dyck a sense of quest which is manifest in his frequent changes in style. The practice of making several versions of a composition was not uncommon from the time of the Renaissance, but it was exploited by Van Dyck to an unusual degree, allowing him to increase his profits.

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