The portrait etchings

The portrait etchings were almost certainly executed around 1630, at the same time that Van Dyck was carrying out an ambitious project of a series of uniform portrait engravings, which later became known as the Iconography. The etchings however, were never included in the series during Van Dyck's lifetime, and the difference between the two groups was appreciated even within the seventeenth century: "The best are those he etched himself," wrote the art historian Gian Pietro Bellori (1613-1696) in 1672. The portraits are closely observed, but executed to varying degrees of finish. In some cases a well defined head stands out against an expanse of empty space (as with the self portrait). In other cases the rest of the figure is minimally indicated by loose and open forms.

Comparison of impressions printed around 1630 and those printed later (some have been issued by the Chalcographie of the Musée du Louvre after it acquired them in 1851) show that the plates underwent changes from the very beginning. A clear division can be made between the alterations and additions made under Van Dyck's direction and those made after his death. The printmakers with whom Van Dyck collaborated were from the studio of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and were regarded as the most highly skilled of the day. Van Dyck supervised additions to the background and costumes of the portraits and also borderlines and inscriptions. Some later additions, however, include modelling to the head and so often go some way to conceal Van Dyck's etched lines. By showing the rare pure etchings next to later impressions, this exhibition offers visitors the chance to witness the fascinating development of the portrait prints.

Selecting a name from the menu on the left will first take you to an introductory page about the sitter in the portrait, and then to another page where you will be able to compare two or three different states of the print.

The 'states' listed in the production information correspond to those in the standard print reference Anthony Van Dyck, The New Hollstein Dutch & Flemish etchings, engravings and woodcuts 1450-1700, Rotterdam: Sound & Vision Publishers, 2002 (8 volumes)


The Fitzwilliam Museum : View the etchings

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