Lot 53
  • 53

Sir Anthony van Dyck

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Anthony van Dyck
  • Portrait of the engraver Jean-Baptiste Barbé
  • oil on panel, en grisaille


Lord Clifton;

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. 


E. Larsen, The Paintings of Anthony Van Dyck, Freren 1988, vol. 2, p. 192, cat. no. 481, reproduced;

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 following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Sir Anthony Van Dyck. Portrait of the Engraver Jean-Baptiste Barbe. This painting is on a small panel with a horizontal grain. It has old priming behind but is faintly bowed. It has remained perfectly stable however with the paint secure throughout. There is a fine grey ground and the free brushwork is beautifully unworn. There has been a comparatively recent restoration from the later decades of the last century, with a rather dimmed varnish, and various minor retouchings, often seemingly scarcely needed, as the overall condition is extremely good. A narrow horizontal line in the background to the left of the head might simply be darkened retouching along a slightly accentuated strand in the characteristic grey ground. Small retouches elsewhere seem only perhaps to cover minor craquelure. The underlying condition of the vivid original sketch appears to be extremely fine. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This grisaille belongs to a set of portraits by Van Dyck commonly known as the Iconography series. Anthony Van Dyck, the leading portraitist of his day, produced this set of paintings and drawings as templates for subsequent engravings in the early 1630s and continued until his death in 1641. Schelte à Bolswert’s (1586–1659) engraving after the present portrait of Jean-Baptiste Barbé (fig. 1) featured in a 1645 publication entitled One Hundred Portraits of Princes, Men of Letters, Painters, Printmakers, Sculptors as well as Amateurs of the Pictorial Arts done from Life by Anthony Van Dyck, Painter, and Engraved at His Expense in Copper.

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).