Picture of the month

Behind this flamboyant portrait lies a sense of melancholy

In this swaggering double portrait by the leading Flemish painter, Anthony Van Dyck, the two younger sons of the Duke of Lennox pose confidently and assertively.

Anthony van Dyck,’Lord John Stuart and his Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart’, about 1638

Anthony van Dyck,’Lord John Stuart and his Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart’, about 1638

Dressed resplendently in opulent lace, satin, and soft leather, the brothers were likely only 17 and 16 years old at the time of this painting.

The older brother, Lord John Stuart, in gold and crimson, stands nonchalantly against a pedestal and looks contemplatively out of the painting.

In contrast, his younger brother, Lord Bernard Stuart, fixes us with an imperious gaze. There is a dramatic flair to his pose – with one foot raised, and a gloved hand on hip – his elbow pointing towards the viewer.

The simplicity of the setting is juxtaposed with the flamboyance of the brothers’ clothes which may have been costumes created specifically for the painting. Not only are they dressed in the very height of 17th-century English court fashion, their clothes denote extreme wealth and social standing.

The brothers were painted on the eve of embarking on a three-year tour of the Continent. They would return to England at the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642. Together with their older brothers, Lodvic and James, they served on the Royalist side. Lord John was killed at the Battle of Cheriton in 1644 while Lord Bernard was killed at the Battle of Rowton Heath in 1645.

This portrait, therefore, captures them as carefree teenagers with their lives ahead. The viewer, however, knows that tragedy awaits, which imparts the painting with a hint of melancholy.

Painting
Anthony van Dyck
about 1638
Anthony van Dyck: 'Lord John Stuart and his Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart'