Together with Holbein, Anthony van Dyck (1599 -1641) is widely regarded as the most important name in pre-eighteenth-century British art. Born in Antwerp he was a precocious talent, rising swiftly to become the chief assistant to Peter Paul Rubens, then the chief painter of Northern Europe. His importance to British art cannot be overstated; during the turbulent years of the reign of Charles I he single-handedly reinvented portrait painting, leaving behind a legacy that would influence generations to come.
Van Dyck first came to Britain in 1620 to work for James I. Charles I recognised in van Dyck the potential to be the perfect creator of the royal image. The painter returned to London in April 1632 and was almost immediately knighted and provided with an enviable property and pension, becoming the chief painter of the court. His portraits of the royal family and courtiers, imbued with an understated authority and relaxed elegance, were an instant success. His pictures of Charles especially seemed to represent the king as both a powerful sovereign and 'nature's gentleman'. His popularity stemmed from his ease when moving in aristocratic circles, and his talent for flattering almost all subjects.
As well as van Dyck's years in England, this book explores his enduring influence on British art and culture in the centuries following his death, reflected in the way eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British sitters wanted their portraits to convey the gravitas and sophistication the earlier painter had mastered so well. Extensively illustrated and with contributions by leading authorities on seventeenth-century art, this is the most thorough examination ever published of van Dyck's British sojourn and the influence it had on the cultural life of the nation.
Karen Hearn is Tate Curator of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century British Art.
Contributors: Tabitha Barber, Tim Batchelor, Christopher Breward, Christopher Brown, Diana Dethloff, Emilie Gordenker, Susan North, Kevin Sharpe, Susan Sloman, Simon Turner and Robert Upstone.
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