Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Anthony van Dyck

Anthony van Dyck

Anthony van Dyck

Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599 – 1641) was a Flemish artist who became the leading court painter in England after success in the Southern Netherlands and Italy. Van Dyck started painting from an early age. He gained early success as a painter, becoming a master in the Antwerp guild in 1618. He worked in the studio of Peter Paul Rubens, who became a significant influence on his work.

Van Dyck worked in London for some months in 1621, then returned to Flanders for a brief time, before traveling to Italy, where he stayed until 1627. He spent five years after his return from Italy in Flanders, and from 1630 was court painter for Archduchess Isabella, Habsburg Governor of Flanders. In 1632 he returned to London to be the principal court painter, at the request of Charles I of England.

He is best known for his portraits of European aristocracy, most notably Charles I and his family and associates. He also painted mythological and biblical subjects. He was also an important innovator in watercolor and etching. Charles I, granted him a knighthood, and he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral.

A Tour of Anthony van Dyck’s Art

  • Equestrian Portrait of Charles I
    • “Equestrian Portrait of Charles I” by Anthony van Dyck glorifies Charles I on horseback after he becomes King of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1625. The portrait was painted about 1637–38, only a few years before the English Civil War broke out. Charles is depicted wearing his suit of armor, riding a heavily muscled horse with a peculiarly small head. To the right of the picture, a page is holding up the King’s helmet. Van Dyck became the Charles’ Principal Painter in Ordinary in 1632. He painted Charles as a heroic philosopher king, carrying a baton of command, with a long sword and wearing the medallion of the Sovereign of the Order of the Garter. His distant expression was designed to demonstrate wisdom. The tablet tied to a branch reads CAROLUS I REX MAGNAE BRITANIAE (Charles I King of Great Britain). Museum: National Gallery, London
  • Charles I at the Hunt
    • “Charles I at the Hunt” by Anthony van Dyck depicts Charles dressed as an aristocratic gentleman, but with regal assurance, standing next to a horse as if resting on a hunt. Charles stands as if surveying his domain with his head turned to face the viewer with a slight smile. The king was sensitive about his height, and Van Dyck compensates by placing the viewer at a low angle point of view, looking up at the king. Charles is portraited in a wide-brimmed Cavalier hat, teardrop earring, shimmering silver satin doublet, red breeches, and turned-down leather boots. He is girt with a sword and has one hand resting on a walking stick, while his other hand rests on his hip, holding his gloves as a sign of his assurance. The horse is bowing its head in submission to the king. On a rock, in the lower right corner, the Latin inscription declares his rights as a king; “Carolus.I.REX Magnae Britanniae”. Translating to “Charles I, King of Great Britain” which was a political statement. His father James had united the crowns of Scotland and England and proclaimed himself King of Great Britain.
  • Biblical Subjects by Anthony van Dyck
    • Samson and Delilah
      • “Samson and Delilah” by Anthony van Dyck depicts the scene after Delila has caused Samson to lose his extraordinary power. Delila had discovered that Samson’s strength was derived by his long hair which she cut off while he was sleeping. Without his long hair, his mortal enemy, the Philistines were able to capture him. This painting was inspired by the episode from the Old Testament story of Samson and Delilah. Samson was a Hebrew hero of the ancient Israelites. He had been granted immense strength to aid him against his enemies and allow him to perform superhuman feats, including defeating an army of Philistines. However, if Samson’s long hair were cut, then his vow would be violated, and he would lose his strength. Unfortunately, he fell in love with Delilah, who betrayed his trust. Museum: Kunsthistorisches Museum
    • Christ Crowned with Thorns
      • “Christ Crowned with Thorns” by Anthony van Dyck depicts Christ surrounded by figures who are mocking him. An armed soldier is placing the Crown of Thorns on his head. The executioner is pulling his hair, and another offers him a cane as his sceptre. Two other figures watch the scene through a window. Van Dyck started this painting aged 20 during his first Antwerp period when he was the leading studio assistant and pupil of Peter Paul Rubens. It shows Rubens’ influence in its relatively somber palette and chiaroscuro. It also displays a highly realistic portrayal of musculature. However, van Dyck seems to have made significant changes early during his stay in Italy, showing the influence of Titian and other Venetian painters in Jesus’ face. Museum: Prado Museum
    • The Rest on The Flight into Egypt
      • “The Rest on The Flight into Egypt” by Anthony van Dyck depicts the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus resting during their flight into Egypt. The Holy Family is resting, and the focus of the composition is on the seated Virgin Mary breastfeeding the Christ Child, enthroned in front of a deep forest landscape background. The theme of the “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” was a popular subject in art. A layperson commissioned this painting for personal devotion. Museum: Alte Pinakothek

Anthony van Dyck

A Tour of Artists and their Art


  • “Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” – Pablo Picasso


“Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.”
– Pablo Picasso


Photo Credit: 1) Anthony van Dyck [Public domain]