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Anthony van Dyck, The Balbi Children

Key facts
Full title The Balbi Children
Artist Anthony van Dyck
Artist dates 1599 - 1641
Date made about 1625-7
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 219 × 151 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1985
Inventory number NG6502
Location Central Hall
Collection Main Collection
The Balbi Children
Anthony van Dyck

Three dashing young boys stand on the steps of an impressive building. They are known as the Balbi children because the painting was once in the collection of the wealthy ​Balbi family ​in Genoa, but we don‘t know who they are. Some have suggested they were members of the Franchi family because the birds perched on the steps are choughs, which appear in the Franchi coat of arms.

Whoever these boys are, their garments are expensive – satin, velvet and brocade, silver and gold braid, with fine ruffs and lace cuffs – and they’re full of life, ready to be off at any moment. Van Dyck’s fine highlights and sensitive modelling show us what each bright-eyed boy looked like, but his subtle and delicate observation of their movements and interactions tells us about their personalities in a way that was groundbreaking. He formulated a new style of portraiture that was hugely influential for centuries to come.

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