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Van Dyck and Titian

Titian's The Vendramin Family was once owned by Anthony van Dyck, and was probably one of his greatest treasures; it was the first item listed in the inventory of his collection of paintings drawn at his death.

Set against a blue sky, nine male members of the Venetian Vendramin family gather before an altar to venerate one of Venice’s most precious relics. The cross, containing a fragment of the True Cross, had been presented to an earlier member of the Vendramin family in 1369 on behalf the Confraternity of Saint John the Evangelist, and was thus a source of great family pride.

Born and trained in Antwerp, Van Dyck became England’s leading court painter, and in the 1630s he shipped this painting across the Channel and installed it in his house in Blackfriars. There, his ‘Titian Cabinet’ was visited by many eminent guests, including his patron King Charles I.

Van Dyck had got to know Rubens’s great art collection while working as an apprentice in his studio, and soon followed his master’s footsteps by acquiring his own impressive array of Italian paintings. A connoisseur of 16th-century Italian art, he purchased pictures by Raphael, Tintoretto, and Bassano. But his greatest passion was for Titian, whose works numbered half of the paintings he owned: 19 pictures.

These paintings informed Van Dyck’s own practice. The focus on the fabrics in 'The Vendramin Family', for example, and the way Titian arranged the figures on the stairs resembles the way Van Dyck posed his two sitters in his portrait of Lord John Stuart and his brother, Lord Bernard Stuart.