Iconography – Van Dyck

Iconography by Anthony Van Dyck.


Usually referred to as Iconography, the collection of portraits of Van Dyck’s eminent contemporaries was created using his etchings and under his direction. The project for the series of portraits was most probably begun in 1626, immediately following the artist’s return (to Flanders) from Italy. From the beginning the work was produced in collaboration with the Antwerp printer, Martinus Van den Enden, who was responsible for publishing the plates. Once printed, the artistic level reached in this collection of Van Dyck’s etchings is even more extraordinary considering that until then portraits had hardly ever been done using this technique. In 1632, when Van Dyck left Flanders to become an artist in Charles I’s court, many of the etchings had already been completed. With Gillis Hendricx’s edition of them, they reached 100 in number and this was successively added to, to become 124 in the Verdussen brothers’ collection composed between the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century.  che viene qui presentata in uno dei suoi esempi / An example is shown here.

The collection, one of the first and most important of its kind, is subdivided into three categories according to the rank of the portrait’s subject: princes (or aristocrats) and generals; statesmen and intellectuals; artists and collectors. On the title page this is indicated on the pedestal on which Van Dyck’s self-portrait is resting. It bears the Latin script:

 Icones principum virorum doctorum pictorum chalcographorum statuariorum nec non amatorum pictoriae artis numero centum et viginti quator ab Antonio Van Dyck pictore ad vivum expressae eiusque sumptibus aeri incise.

The Verdussen collection of etchings also bears the title in French: this highlights the importance of Van Dyck’s portraits and refers to him as a famous painter and royal knight – Le cabinet de plus beaux portraits (…) faits par le fameux Antoine Van Dyck chevalier et peintre du Roi – and refers to his economic contribution to the creation of the portraits – (…) les quels l’Autheur mesme a faict Graver à ses propes dépans.