15 Facts About Anthony van Dyck: A Man Who Knew Many Faces

Anthony van Dyck was a successful Flemish painter during the Baroque. His prolificity and talent led him beyond present-day Belgium, making him known as one of England’s superstars of art.

Aug 16, 2020By Heidi Vance, BFA Studio Art w/ minor in Art History
anthony van dyck portrait paintings
The Blue Boy, Portrait of Jonathan Buttall by Thomas Gainsborough, 1770, via The Huntington Library, San Marino (left); with Sir Anthony van Dyck by Sir Anthony van Dyck, 1640, via National Portrait Gallery, London (center); and Margaret Lemon by Anthony van Dyck, 1638, via The Frick Collection, New York (right)


Anthony van Dyck was a famous painter during the seventeenth-century era commonly known as the Baroque period. Born on March 22, 1599, in Antwerp, he was the seventh of twelve children. His father was a silk merchant and his mother was a skilled embroiderer. Van Dyck quickly became one of the most well-known artists from Flanders (present-day Belgium), behind Peter Paul Rubens. He lived and worked in Flanders, Italy, and England, where he became the official court painter to Charles I. While Van Dyck was highly prolific, he is best known for his portraits, which are now viewed in collections all over the world.


15. Anthony Van Dyck’s Career Took Off At A Young Age 

Self-Portrait by Anthony van Dyck, 1620-21, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Like others, Anthony van Dyck’s art career began at a young age. He expressed an interest in art early on, and by ten he was an apprentice of Hendrik van Balen. After studying with Van Balen, Van Dyck established his own studio while in his teens. Sometime after the establishment of his first studio, Van Dyck met Peter Paul Rubens. Van Dyck chose to give up his own studio to be Rubens’ chief assistant. At age eighteen, he gained admittance into Antwerp’s Guild of Saint Luke, a guild for master painters. Because of his major successes at such a young age, he acquired the nickname of “Mozart of painting.” Having already created a name for himself in Flanders, he chose to travel to England in 1620. He quickly became a court painter of King Charles I. He traveled and studied in Italy and frequently returned to England, his career’s epicenter. 


14. Like Many Artists Of His Time, He Was A Lady’s Man

Margaret Lemon by Anthony van Dyck, 1638, Private Collection, via The Frick Collection, New York


It should come as no surprise that a talented (and attractive) man like Anthony van Dyck would have a flock of admirers. During Van Dyck’s lifetime, he had a variety of mistresses before his eventual marriage to the aristocrat Mary Ruthven. Due to his traveling between London and Flanders, he likely had an overlap of multiple relationships. One of his most famous mistresses was Margaret Lemon. Like Van Dyck, her surname had multiple spellings. Lemon likely became Van Dyck’s mistress during the 1630s up until his marriage to Ruthven in 1640. Some viewed her as “dangerous” due to her jealousy and possessiveness over the artist. Based on the claims, Van Dyck and Lemon’s relationship was tumultuous. However, she and Van Dyck both had multiple lovers in London. Lemon’s life is unknown (or any other mistresses’ lives) before or after her involvement with Van Dyck.


13. He Studied Under Peter Paul Rubens

Honeysuckle Bower by Peter Paul Rubens, 1609, via Alte Pinakothek, Munich


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In Baroque society, it was not uncommon to apprentice under master artists to hone and refine artistic skills. By Anthony van Dyck’s adolescence, he already had his own studio. Peter Paul Rubens later offered him the opportunity to join his studio. Van Dyck chose to discard his studio for the opportunity to work with Rubens as an assistant-cum-collaborator. This decision allowed Van Dyck to continue developing his skills, adopting lush, vibrant colors, and a talent for portraiture. His education under Rubens gave him significant advantages within the world of art, providing him the tools to excel and the connections to become a world-class artist. He received an invitation to visit the court of King James I in England. Afterward, he chose to continue developing his craft in Italy for six years. Upon returning to Antwerp, he once again established a studio that thrived and became a worthy adversary of Rubens.


12. Anthony Van Dyck And His Contemporary Diego Velásquez

Self-Portrait by Diego Velázquez, 1640, via Museu de Belles Arts de València


Anthony van Dyck’s life bore many similarities to the famous Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. Both painters were born in the same year.  While Velázquez spent the majority of his career in Spain and Van Dyck was more nomadic, their careers mirror each other. These two were both court painters; Van Dyck to James I of England (and later Charles I of England) and Velázquez to King Philip IV of Spain. Each painter began their art careers young and found themselves working within the royal courts in the 1620s. Both gentlemen worked alongside Peter Paul Rubens. They both traveled and found inspiration in Italian art, sourcing and studying various works. Van Dyck became a knight in 1632, Velázquez became a knight in 1658. Van Dyck paintings and Velázquez paintings both exhibit expressive styles that later paved the roads for nineteenth-century impressionism. Each painter made significant contributions to the future of painting.


11. His Name Has Multiple Spellings And Variations

Self-Portrait by Anthony van Dyck, circa 1632-36, Private Collection of the Duke of Westminster


Although the name “Anthony van Dyck” is commonly accepted, this artist has a variety of ways his name is spelled. Some spellings are accommodations for other languages. Some interesting variations include Anthony van Dijk, Antonio Wandik, Anttonio Vandique, Bandeique, and Anthonius van Dyck. Given his success across Europe, it is easy to see why his name would have variations rooted in other languages. However, his name has hundreds of variations in terms of spelling and likely pronunciation. 


10. His Annual Court Painter Salary Equates To Nearly $50,000 USD Today

Charles I at the Hunt by Anthony van Dyck, 1635, via Musée du Louvre, Paris


As a court painter with many wealthy clients, it comes as no shock that Anthony van Dyck was a financially successful painter. When Van Dyck returned to London in 1632, Charles I knighted him and provided a pension to be one of the court’s painters. His pension was £200, which equates to approximately $47,850.33 United States dollars today, depending on the exchange rates and inflation. Needless to say, he was well taken care of by King Charles I. 


9. His Success Spanned Three Countries: Flanders, Italy, And England

Charles I and Henrietta Maria with their Two Eldest Children, Prince Charles and Princess Mary by Anthony van Dyck, 1632, in Windsor Castle, via The Royal Collection Trust


Anthony van Dyck’s art career flourished in multiple countries like many Baroque artists. He established his career at a young age in Antwerp, Flanders (present-day Belgium). In 1621, he traveled to Italy and remained there for six years. He primarily worked in Genoa, studying the work of Titian, as well as learning the style of Italian Baroque artists. During this time, he developed his signature style of painting full-length portraits. After 1627, he returned to Antwerp for five years, continuing to paint aristocratic figures. In 1630, he was a court painter for Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia. Van Dyck later received the invitation of Charles I of England to be his main court painter. In England, Van Dyck continued to create paintings for the king and multiple members of the nobility. Although he made multiple trips to Antwerp, Van Dyck’s main spot of practice was London, up until his death in 1641.


8. He Had Two Daughters

Mary, Lady van Dyck, née Ruthven by Anthony van Dyck, 1640, via Museo del Prado, Madrid


Anthony van Dyck often had multiple relationships with women, like many successful artists. He primarily had relationships in his two places of great success: Antwerp and London. He frequently traveled back and forth between the two, staying in either place for months or years at a time.  There is some speculation as to why he left Antwerp for London: he impregnated one of his many lovers. On his deathbed, he finally acknowledged his illegitimate daughter Maria-Theresia. Van Dyck continued to have multiple trysts throughout his career up until his marriage to Mary Ruthven in 1640. At this point, Van Dyck was approximately 41 years old, and in declining health. Fortunately, he was able to survive long enough to witness the birth of his daughter Justiniana on December 1, 1641. Eight days later, Van Dyck died at 42 years old. Justiniana and Maria-Theresa are the only acknowledged children of Van Dyck.


7. His Talent And Presence Reignited The Arts In England

Charles I (1600-1649) by Anthony van Dyck, 1635, in Windsor Castle, via The Royal Collection Trust


When one thinks of Baroque art, England is not the first country to cross minds. This is a result of the Protestant Reformation and the establishment of the Church of England by King Henry VIII. Generally speaking, Protestantism was against the opulence that Baroque art and society reflected. Unlike other denominations of Christianity and Protestantism, the Anglican denomination incorporates principles and characteristics of Catholic and Protestant teachings. England’s art became stagnant and majorly influenced by Northern European artists from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, including Hans Holbein the Younger. With the arrival of Flemish artists such as Anthony van Dyck, art in England was finally entering the 17th century. Van Dyck’s work redesigned English portraiture, which had been stiff and unchanging from the Tudor and Jacobean styles. Van Dyck’s contributions to English art left an impression that can be found in later eras of British art up until the twentieth century. 


6. His Multiple Famous Followers

The Blue Boy, Portrait of Jonathan Buttall by Thomas Gainsborough, 1770, via The Huntington Library, San Marino 


Anthony van Dyck’s stylistic choices undoubtedly influenced the entire genre of portraiture.  Portraiture in England during the eighteenth century was highly profitable; Van Dyck’s works laid the groundwork for the importance and demand of portraiture. Van Dyck’s paintings had distinct features: detailed hands, long fingers, and lifelike faces. The establishment of the Royal Academy of Arts is traceable to Van Dyck through his followers. Sir Joshua Reynolds, one of the United Kingdom’s leading portraitists, established the Royal Academy of Arts. One of Reynolds’s contemporaries, Thomas Gainsborough, was another avid follower of Van Dyck. Both of these men were Van Dyck’s artistic “heirs” who shaped and derived their works from the works of Van Dyck. Other artists of importance who followed Van Dyck include English artist and architect Joseph Gandy and Dutch painter Adriaen Hanneman.


5. Van Dyck’s Studio Was Referred To As The “Beauty Shop”

Portrait of Mary Hill, Lady Killigrew by Anthony van Dyck, 1638, via Tate, London


In addition to Anthony van Dyck’s successful career as a court painter, he maintained an efficient and profitable studio. His studio in London was nicknamed the “beauty shop”, where various individuals of importance within England frequented. Unlike earlier portraitists, Van Dyck refrained from drastically altering his sitters’ appearances to flatter them. While this decision led to criticism, these choices shaped portraiture for the next 150 years. The “beauty shop” was a well-oiled machine that produced portraits on a metaphorical assembly line. His sitters were sat and sketched for roughly an hour, creating a basic mock-up of the portrait. An assistant then blew the sketch up onto canvas and was partially completed by Van Dyck. He painted the head and adjusted the details of the portrait. 


4. Beyond Art, Van Dyck Was An Influencer Of Appearance And Fashion

Genoese Noblewoman by Anthony van Dyck, 1625-27, via The Frick Collection, New York 


Anthony van Dyck’s choice in the costumery of his sitters was likely influenced by his parents’ occupations within the realm of textiles. Flemish art of the Baroque is easily recognized through the simple yet elaborate and ornate costumery of the subjects. This emphasized their wealth, social status, regality, and individuality. Van Dyck receives credit as one of the first to dress his sitters so romantically. His decisions in what his sitters wore were influential and impactful, leaving a lasting impression for eras to come. In addition to the clothing he chose to paint, he was a “fashionista” of sorts. He wore simple, loose-fitting clothing that was stylish but not overly flashy. His most significant look that is still seen on-trend today is his famous mustache and beard combo. This look, so fondly referred to as the “Van Dyke,” is still seen today on various male celebrities and other men across the world. 


3. His Grave Disappeared In A Fire

Memorial of St. Paul’s Cathedral by Macdonald Gill and Mervyn MacCartney, 1913, in Memorials & Monuments by Lawrence Weaver, via Internet Archive


Anthony van Dyck died on December 9, 1641, roughly a week after the birth of his only legitimate child. Near the end of his life, working in England became increasingly difficult due to the continuing political turmoil. This conflict caused uncertainty in Van Dyck’s life, as he relied heavily on the aristocrats as a source of income. By the time he returned to England he was seriously ill. Despite being Catholic, his tomb was in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, an Anglican church. Unfortunately, his final resting place vanished in 1666 due to the Great Fire of London. The old cathedral contained the tombs of nearly 30 significant individuals. Plans for the new cathedral began two years later and were not complete until 1711. The installation of a memorial to acknowledge and commemorate the lives of those buried in the old cathedral occurred in 1913. 


2. Despite Van Dyck’s Success, There Is Little Known About Him

Self-Portrait by Anthony van Dyck, 1622-23, via The Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg


Oddly enough, there is little biographical information on Anthony van Dyck. Although there are some specific details on his life, it is nowhere near as extensive as his contemporaries. Perhaps he was not as short-tempered, like Bernini and Caravaggio. Given his significant influence in art, it is highly unusual that so many details of his personal life are unknown. While art history was a newly pioneered concept, first started by Giorgio Vasari, it is abnormal that it is so little. The lack of scholarship has continually caused issues when attributing and studying his works. Because there is little scholarship or official catalogs on his work, problems are frequently encountered in documenting his art, as well as determining his authorship on a work.  


1. There Is No Official Count Of Anthony Van Dyck’s Completed Artworks

Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia by Anthony van Dyck, 1628-33, in The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, via Art UK

Unlike similar artists of the time, there is no official count on Anthony van Dyck’s paintings. The consensus is that he painted somewhere around 200 paintings, the exact amount being unclear. Some believe that he painted roughly 500 portraits. Given his significant influence on the genre of portraiture and art, it can often be difficult to determine his authorship. In fact, in the past decade, at least two paintings were discovered to be Van Dyck’s. In 2012, a portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria as Saint Catherine was publicly attributed to Van Dyck on BBC’s hit program Fake or Fortune, a show that explores the provenance and connoisseurship of artwork to determine the value and history of various works. More recently, a portrait of Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery was identified as an original Van Dyck.

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By Heidi VanceBFA Studio Art w/ minor in Art HistoryHeidi Vance is a contributing writer to TheCollector, a practicing studio artist, and an emerging art conservation professional. She obtained her BFA in Studio Art and a minor in Art History from the University of Central Florida and will be pursuing her MA in Conservation of Fine Art at Northumbria University in Fall 2020.