Anthony van Dyck was a Flemish artist whose work changed the course of both arts in the Netherlands and that of Europe as a whole during the Baroque period. His work established a new standard for Flemish art, as well as inspiring artists across Europe. Each Van Dyck painting exemplifies his expertise, both in the Baroque style and in portraiture.
Van Dyck was born to a large family in 1599. His father was a successful silk merchant and his mother an embroider, making for a wealthy family that was able to give him ample opportunities. Anthony van Dyck’s talent in the visual arts emerged early and he was studying with Hendrick van Balen by 1609.
By age fifteen, Van Dyck was an independent and accomplished painter. It was at this age that van Dyck opened a workshop with fellow prodigy, Jan Bruegel the Younger. In February 1618, he was admitted to the Antwerp painters' Guild of Saint Luke as a free master. It was here that his career began gaining traction, and his formal training as an artist began.
One of van Dyck’s first major jobs occurred when he traveled to England to work for King James I of England. His first stay in London was short, however, as he returned to Flanders after just four months. This stay would also prove to be short, and van Dyck relocated to Italy in 1621. He was in the country during the 1624 plague, which he documented in his depictions of Saint Rosalia, who was invoked in times of disease.
His time in Italy was also when he began to become an accomplished portrait artist. His works commissioned by the Genoese aristocracy became the basis for van Dyck’s later focus on full-length portraits. This focus would also influence his later style of print-making.
Van Dyck would go on to return to England at intervals to work with the English court and the royal family on commissioned portraits. He also spent time working to find other paintings for the English aristocracy, giving him status among the English nobility. His standing was such that he was knighted by Charles I, a title not often granted to artists during that time.
Portraiture and Printmaking
Van Dyck’s career occurred at a time when portraits were in especially high demand. He was particularly known for his ability to capture the model in a flattering manner in his portraits. Van Dyck was one of the first artists to make a career as a court portraitist. He, along with contemporary Diego Valasquez, revolutionized the way portraits were created for nobles.
Van Dyck’s artistic skills were not limited to portraiture. He also created a number of prints during his time in Antwerp, following his return to the Netherlands. The prints would eventually come to comprise a large series of half-length portraits. The prints focused on contemporary figures of the time and were considered revolutionary for the genre. While he did the etching for eighteen of the engravings, he usually produced the drawings and left the etching to professional engravers.
While his prints were a great success, Van Dyck returned to painting once the series was complete. This was likely due to the fact that he was in high demand as a portraitist. The series continued to be enormously popular until the age of photography.
Anthony van Dyke’s work in portraiture had a direct influence on the fashion of the time. The facial hairstyles worn by models in his paintings came to be known as the “Van Dyck beard.” his name was also used to refer to the wide collar seen in his models that covered the shoulders with lace.
The final instance of van Dyck’s name being used for a fashion trend came in the form of the “Van Dyke outfit.” Similar to a generic “cavalier” outfit, this was closer to a costume than a clothing style. The figure depicted in Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy is one example of the “van dyke” outfit.
Van Dyck’s legacy was not limited to fashion, however. He made a significant impact on the art world. His work in both portraiture and printmaking paved the way for many of the painters that came after him.
His work is often regarded as a driving force of the Baroque style in Northern Europe.
Van Dyck’s legacy as a painter was not fully realized until the nineteenth century when he had an influence on artists such as James Abbott McNeill Whistler.
Anthony van Dyck’s career brought him from the Netherlands across Europe. His career left a lasting impact on the art world, both in painting and fashion. Art lovers continue to travel across the world to see his works, most of which are housed in museums across Europe.