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Portraiture That Set a Precedent

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THE drawings of Anthony Van Dyck, though not as spectacular as his oils, are equally wonderful in their own way. Many are done with great force and are imbued with intense feeling. Van Dyck's lines are often darkened with ink, accentuating the play of muscles in a manner which bears comparison with Michelangelo.Van Dyck entered Rubens's atelier in Antwerp when he was hardly more than a child, already showing his talent, and impressing his contemporaries with his beautiful manners. Early it was apparent that there was little he could learn there, though there was always a great deal to do in that busy setting. And it was not long before something else was perceived: Even in so cultivated and rich a city as Antwerp, there was not room for two artists of such superlative powers to work without a rivalry developin g between them. Van Dyck left for Italy, ostensibly to study, and remained there for about eight years. Most of his work during the Italian period was focused on religious themes, whether in painting or in drawing. He began his sojourn in Rome. A coterie of men from the Low Countries living there welcomed him, but their feelings changed when they began witnessing his extravagance. Van Dyck was known to be a great spender, associating with noblemen (whose portraits he would execute), and was as lavish as they. The Dutch have left records of how much he would spend on a single dish of fish or meat. Irritated by the attitude of his compatriots, Van Dyck left Rome and went on to other Italian cities, of which Genoa became his favorite. He also loved Venice where he studied the works of Titian, whose portraits greatly influenced his own style.Among his many drawings, Van Dyck did numerous studies of the entombment, the crown of thorns, and such scenes. Being from the southern Netherlands, he became part of the Counter-Reformation which arose in response to the Protestant ascendancy of the northern pro vinces, the new republic of Holland. After the Italian years had passed, we find him again in Antwerp, but not for long, as he was then invited to go to England as court painter, with a knighthood. He would remain there for the last 10 years of his short life, producing those marvelous oils which set the pattern for royal and noble portraits for centuries. To many, the portrait drawings are more penetrating, and - perhaps because of the relative simplicity and candor of the medium - more striking than the oils. The two drawings reproduced on this page appeared at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York earlier this year. They are from a series of engravings called the Iconography, which consists of portraits of artists, collectors, and other distinguished persons. Of the portrait of architect and scene painter Inigo Jones, art critic Sacheverell Sitwell writes: "Inigo Jones ... has long hair in the Cavalier fashion touching on his shoulders, and it is fair hair, evidently, according to the lights of the engraving. ... Upon his head the architect has a linen cap suggesting that of a scholar, a man of learning ... not a fashionable person ... and he has the physiognomy of a thinker ... we close the book in the feeling that Inigo Jones, besides being one of the finest engravings, is the portrait of the most important person of the time. Probably this is no less t han the truth. He is the first of English architects: but poet and artist, always, more than engineer ... (he) belongs to the great epoch, to the High Renaissance. He was of the generation of Shakespeare, and belongs to the Age of Poetry, not of Reason." INIGO Jones has been called the greatest theatrical designer of all time, inventing many of the stage artifices we now enjoy. The rise of the Puritans, who closed the theaters, put a stop to this activity after a decade of success; Jones was force to turn to his other profession, architecture. When he was in Venice he had become imbued with Palladian ideals, and now brought these concepts to his English buildings. He built the Queen's House at Greenwich and the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall. The other portrait on this page is of Don Carlos Coloma (1573-1637). A Spanish grandee, he was an ambassador, a general, a statesman, and a historian; he represents that Spain against which the Dutch Republic waged its long and heroic struggle. Van Dyck, himself traditional, conservative, and a supporter of monarchy, was certainly in sympathy with Don Carlos' principles, and shows him in an idealized light. It is a fine and beautiful work, done sometime between 1627 and 1635, with black chalk on cream antique laid paper darkened to light tan, and heightened with white chalk. No oil portrait is more telling, in itself - the Spanish aristocrat appearing as the epitome of breeding and refinement with his perfect aquiline features, and seeming to b e gentle, calm, reflective. This is not what history tells of his generation, but clearly Van Dyck saw him in the nimbus of his own perception, his idealized fantasy of an idealized court. With his mastery of technique and line he presents this figure in a few lines sweeping across the centuries and reaching us today - he is an irresistible artist.

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