Anthony Van Dick – Equestrian portrait of the Emperor Charles V
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Short in life but grand in work

Anthony Van Dyck (1599 – 1641) was a prominent figure as a Flemish painter that prevailed with his distinguishing portraiture in Italy, Paris and London. His work influenced the English portrait painting for the next 150 years.

He distributed a talent for the arts form an early age, and became an independent painter form the age of fifteen, and admitted to the Antwerp painters Guilt of Saint Luke. He was a pupil or rather a collaborator of Peter Paul Rubens, who referred to the nineteen year old Van Dyck as “the best of my pupils.”  The influence of his tutor is clear, and Ruben’s recommendations of the young artist, aided him gain his first commissions in England.  Although he gained an annual salary in England from King James I, his restlessness and eagerness for knowledge and travel, made him flee to Italy and study after the Great Masters of Art.  A sketch book exists in the British Museum of his studies of the Italian painters of Renaissance, and he was mainly influenced by the Venetian School and above all the work of Titian, whose work freely demonstrates in the work of young van Dyck.

Van Dyck travelled intensely in his life and his aristocratic character gained amiable affairs with courtesans and dukes, who ordered his paintings.  He spent some time in Antwerp, but after some years, he visited London where apart from some travels to Paris, he remained to the end of his short life. In England, he was well received, and became court painter of King Charles I.  He was knighted and painted a number of portraits of the King and the Queen and their children.  He was very successful and opened a studio in London, where with the help form his pupils, mainly Flemish, finishing the fabrics and the background of his paintings, he completed his numerous works.  At the age of forty two, celebrating a vigorous career, he became sick and died in London.  However short his life he managed to complete a large number of paintings and engravings that would influence the course of painting in the hundreds of years to come.

An appealing talent from an early age

The work by Van Dyck the “Equestrian Portrait of Charles V” is a painting of a Baroque style that was hugely influenced by the Italian Master of Art, Titian, who painted the same subject.

The portrait gains in its directness and celebration of power and victory.  Both the King and the horse share a serene heroism and sense of triumph, in their shiny conquering armor.  The red shawl of the king along with the shiny white color of the horse, contrast well against the tormented sky and sea at the background, used as a pictorial metaphor to bring in the state of the anguished scene of the battle. The horse’s posture is very realistic, and trades the anguish of conflict and the acquisition of triumph.  A ship is fighting against the turbulent sea waves in the background, also foretelling the hazards of the combat. The ship is circulated with a pale yellow ochre opening the sky of clouds and weatherly turmoil, contrasting this lighted area of sky against the grey overall background, creating a depth in the painting.  In the dark sky portrayed with dark blues and greys in a freehand amateur manner, flies an eagle with a branch of leafs of an olive tree, symbols of victory and accomplishment.   The king stands in confidence and poise in front of this tempestuous and raging scenery, in his royal acquisition and triumphant expression in peace and serenity. The armor is depicted in great detail, lighting the metal parts, shining of military tradition and charm.

Portrait genre in painting

Even though the genre of portraiture was not as highly appreciated as the genre of history paintings, and van Dyck prompted the king to commission such attempts, but failed to complete, as the demand for portraits was stronger.  However we acknowledge nowadays the qualities of such paintings of portraiture and their eminent posture in the field of Art.

The work of Van Dyck ranging from paintings to etchings and watercolors, is influential in the course of painting in the centuries to come, such in the work of Thomas Gainsborough and others.  His idealization of his models without sacrificing any of their individuality, in a freshness and spontaneity of execution of technique, is the style of Van Dyck that meant to unveil in the Museums of Art nowadays.