Anthony van Dyck Style and Technique

Full Name:
Anthony van Dyck
Short Name:
van Dyck
Alternative Names:
Antoon Van Dyck, Anthonis van Dyck
Date of Birth:
22 Mar 1599
Date of Death:
09 Dec 1641
Paintings, Drawings
Oil, Wood, Other
Figure, Scenery
Art Movement:
Antwerp, Belgium
Anthony van Dyck Style and Technique Page's Content
Anthony van Dyck

Anthony van Dyck Style

Pieve di Cadore
Samson and Delilah 1630
Samson and Delilah 1630
Anthony van Dyck
Anthony van Dyck
St Martin dividing his cloak
St Martin dividing his cloak
Anthony van Dyck
Portraits constitute the crux of Anthony van Dyck's oeuvre. He completed 99 works in total, 72 being portraits. The artist is considered to be second only to his role model, Titian, in his work.

From his time in Italy van Dyck was praised by the aristocracy for his ability to portray the human figure with natural authority and dignity. He continued demonstrating his Flemish influence in portraiture by using various props to uphold the status of the sitter. His stylistic influence was evident in his color palette by using a semi-traditional dark background to highlight the subject.

Van Dyck's portraits became most famous when he went to work in the courts of England, after being recommended by the Countess of Arundel and her husband. The courts, still being predominantly Roman Catholic, liked van Dyck's fusion of the concepts of iconography with naturalism. His portraits were largely set in overriding black and red interiors in which flesh tones were accentuated.

Van Dyck's compositions for his single portraits always adopted a feeling of grandeur whereby the viewer was forced to look up upon the sitter and feel a sense of inferiority and admiration for the larger-than-life subject and the social positions they held.

The artists portraits added more character to the sitter than his master, Rubens had done. Van Dyck was known to be a fan of the Dutch artist, Frans Hals, and his ability to recreate strong characterization in his subjects. This resulted in van Dyck inserting various hand gestures and bodily spatial dimensions to emphasize the sitter's most famous traits.

These works are less prominent in van Dyck's collection and only a few of them were executed. Most of these paintings were created on his second return to Antwerp after Italy and they were mainly done in cartoon form, heralding the lives of ancient Roman and Greek historical characters and leaders.

Van Dyck's paintings in this genre largely showed the complex psychologies of various personas engaged in a narrative. He did not fill the canvas with various other characters and subject matter like Rubens did but instead included objects and subject matter that assisted in the complex compositional aspects of the works.

His focus therefore was very much on the main characters in the scene. Van Dyck's historical pieces contain various spatial dimensions that create astounding three-dimensional effects.

Van Dyck's works in this genre were mainly executed during his time in Italy as he created paintings for several important buildings in the city on behalf of the cardinals and even the Pope.

Such works were heavily influenced by Rubens, especially in terms of their composition and style. These works also contain dominant iconographical elements in the spatial dimension and with regards to their refined colouring.

Drawing inspiration from his own Catholic upbringing and motivated by his desire to represent the holy figures in excellence, van Dyck brought a fresh approach to these works, painting them in utmost beauty.

It's likely that his religious works were also influenced by his time in Venice when he was studying at the Venetian school and exposed to the portrayal of important saints and subjects from the biblical narrative.

Van Dyck used his religious works to practise his hand at landscape painting which he later went on to include in all his other genres.

His landscapes did not usually appear alone as single works and were always executed in great detail pertaining to Flemish tradition.

These backgrounds reinforced the atmosphere of his works and this innovation by van Dyck would have an immense following until the Romantic period.

Anthony van Dyck Method

Van Dyck is most noted for his ability to mix various hues correctly to define texture in shadow and light. His use of color changes over time; in Italy he used richer colors in the fashion of the Roman Antiquates and a more classical style.

This could either have been based on his own personal preference or just meeting the tastes and preferences of the Italian market.

In Antwerp he used a silvery sheen in his portraits and works that eluded sharp contrasting light and shadow conditions, as if the light was full force upon the subject or in the interior.

During his time in England, van Dyck used colors without inhibition and created his own color mixing techniques. He enjoyed using bold tints and colors for various objects and surfaces in his works and he was so well-defined in this aspect that the van Dyck brown was created.

The artist is most noted for his flesh tones and was inspired by Frans Hals and his extensive use of the color palette for the image in light. Yet, van Dyck preferred his skin tones and colors to be smooth in texture and only created definition where it was needed, making the image more realistic.

His use of greys and blacks dominated the interior backgrounds and he used various white sheens beneath his blues and greens for his landscape backgrounds.

Brush work:
Van Dyck is most noted for his loose and fluid brush strokes on his sweeping fabrics and landscapes. Even on reflective surfaces he was able to execute the paint in smooth overtones and still managed to include intricate details.

His use of the paint brush expresses his vigor as he let his inhibitions go when creating his works. Van Dyck became a master at the reflective surfaces of fabrics and objects as can be seen in his depiction of Charles I's armor, where he uses various daubs to define the shadowy reflections.

Van Dyck uses stark greens and various blues in broad hand, similar to Rembrandt but he aimed to create a pastoral image in his paintings for his patrons in England.

Van Dyck preferred his paint thin in texture so that it would not interrupt his flow of painting and would allow him to execute his smooth, long brush strokes and thin layering affects.

He always had one of his servants clean his paint brushes before he used it for the next portrait. It is believed that the artist never spent more than one hour on each portrait.

Van Dyck's compositions for his religious works took on the slanted planes that Rubens has used. Van Dyck did not insert as much subject matter in his narrative but rather stuck to creating epic central figures to reassert the figure's authority, like he did in his portraits.

He used slanted dimensions to accentuate the main subjects and capture the psychological rendering of their activity on a larger scale in full detail.

Van Dyck's portraits were executed on extremely large canvasses and their bodies were usually always positioned at an angle that gave the image its three-dimensional aspect.

His lighting techniques in his portraits also assisted in creating more in-depth space as the light source would almost always come from behind the artist and the shadow would eventually darken toward the depths of the picture.

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