Sir Anthony van Dyck
- Anthony van Dyck
- Portrait of the engraver Jean-Baptiste Barbé
- oil on panel, en grisaille
With Edouard Warneck, Paris;
His sale, Paris, Petit, 27–28 May 1926, lot 34;
With Preyer, Vienna;
E.W. Edwards, Cincinnati, Ohio;
Eleonore Z. Edwards, Cincinnati, Ohio;
By whom sold, London, Christie's, 9 July 1976, lot 20;
With Thos. Agnew and Sons, Ltd., London;
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1998.
H. Vey, 'Van Dyck in Antwerp and Burssels', in Van Dyck, A complete catalogue of the paintings, S.J. Barnes, N. de Poorter, O. Millar, H. Vey (eds), New Haven and London 2004, p. 373, cat. no. III.168, reproduced.
The purpose of the engravings was to celebrate the lives of illustrious contemporaries of Van Dyck and to construct a narrative linking them as respectable intellectuals. This conscious elevation of status operated within a tradition established by the 1570s, such as with Domenicus Lampsonius’ Pictorum aliquot celebrium Germaniae inferioris effigies (fig. 2). The intention was to elevate the status of the artist to that of a noble profession, and to promote dignity and self-assurance as artistic virtues. Being more than a mechanical reproducer of images, the pictor doctus was to be seen as an intellectual on the same level as a scholar.1
The practice of producing preparatory works for the purpose of being engraved was a common one; Rubens frequently operated in such a way within his studio, which is possibly where Van Dyck derived his interest having learned his trade there in the 1610s.2 As Van Dyck would not have been in the engraver’s studio to oversee the process it was necessary to make the images immediately translatable. The black and white nature of the grisaille technique lent itself better to the engraver than one of full colour, for obvious reasons. The portrait of Barbé, as with his other such grisaille portraits, contains tremendous character. Working in monochrome makes the subtlety of this painting all the more impressive; fine white highlights across Barbé’s hands and forehead imbuing the sitter with texture and life, some of which is lost in the engraving.
The series is an important component of Van Dyck’s œuvre, though there remains some uncertainty about its ultimate aims; in particular whether Van Dyck ever fully planned the project to its completion, and whether the works were ever intended to be published in one volume. However, it is generally accepted that Van Dyck produced a series of grisaille and pen and ink compositions which were then sent to Antwerp to be engraved in the early 1630s, and were published by Martinus van den Ende. This series of 80 individually marketed engravings is based on work entirely by Van Dyck.3 However, the grisaille of Barbé relates to an engraving which was sold after Van Dyck’s death, in a bound volume published in 1645 by Gillis Hendricx. While some critics have questioned whether Van Dyck was responsible for all the portraits engraved in this volume, they have been unanimous in considering the portrait of Barbé as Van Dyck's own.4 In the 2004 catalogue raisonné of Van Dyck's paintings Horst Vey considers only the present work as of the same high quality as the twenty-three fully autograph studies for this series of works owned by the Duke of Buccleuch at Boughton House, Kettering, and fully ascribes it to the hand of Van Dyck.5
Jean-Baptiste Barbé (1578–1649) was a Flemish engraver and publisher of engravings in Antwerp. In 1606 he ventured to Italy to develop his artistic skills where he met Rubens, who would become a lifelong associate. He would subsequently engrave many of Rubens' paintings. While Johannes Erasmus Quellinus (d. 1715) noted that Barbé 'had a very ugly face'. Van Dyck has made no such judgement in this portrait of him, his elegant features having a fluidity and confidence which completely disguises any such suggestion.
1. J. A. Spicer, 'Anthony van Dyck's Iconography: An Overview of Its Preparation', in Van Dyck 350, (Studies in the History of Art, 46), S. J. Barnes, A. K. Wheelock (eds.), Washington, D.C. 1994, p. 327.
2. G. Luijten, ‘The Iconography: Van Dyck’s portraits in print’, in Anthony van Dyck as a printmaker, C. Depauw, G. Juiten (eds), Antwerp, Amsterdam 1999, p. 80.
3. Luijten 1999, p. 75.
4. Spicer 1994, p. 343.
5. H. Vey, ‘Van Dyck in Antwerp and Brussels’, in Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven and London 2004, p. 373.
By Schelte à Bolswert (fig. 1).