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Anthony van Dyck was a child prodigy who was already an accomplished artist by his mid-teens. After an apprenticeship with Hendrick van Balen, he entered Rubens’s studio to assist the master in painting biblical and mythological subjects, but Van Dyck is best known today for the grace and exuberance of his later portraits. Between 1621 and 1627 he made Italy his home, where he received important commissions from the aristocracy of Genoa and the bishops and cardinals of Rome. Back in Antwerp he was equally in demand as a portrait painter. Like Rubens, Van Dyck ran a large workshop in order to meet high demand, often leaving the less important parts of his portraits to studio assistants.

King Charles I of England invited Van Dyck to London and knighted him in 1632. The artist became the ultimate visual chronicler of life at the English court, and to this day, his portraits of British aristocrats can be found in most major country house collections. Van Dyck’s elegant portraiture had a lasting influence on portrait painting throughout Europe, but nowhere more than in England.