SIR ANTHONY VAN DYCK (ANTWERP 1599-1641 LONDON) AND STUDIO
SIR ANTHONY VAN DYCK (ANTWERP 1599-1641 LONDON) AND STUDIO
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PROPERTY FROM THE NATIONAL CHURCHES TRUST
SIR ANTHONY VAN DYCK (ANTWERP 1599-1641 LONDON) AND STUDIO

Christ on the cross

Details
SIR ANTHONY VAN DYCK (ANTWERP 1599-1641 LONDON) AND STUDIO
Christ on the cross
oil on canvas, unframed
86 3/4 x 53 in. (220.8 x 138.4 cm.)
Provenance
Lourdes Convent, Brighton; Christie's, London, 7 July 1972, lot 36, as 'Sir Anthony van Dyck', when acquired by the following,
Private collection, UK, by whom donated to the present owners.
Literature
H. Vey, in S.J. Barnes et al., Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven and London, 2004, p. 268, under no. III.29, as a copy.

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Lot Essay

This monumental canvas of Christ on the Cross was painted in circa 1627-1632, following van Dyck’s return to his native Antwerp after nearly six years in Italy. The composition, with the skyline of an Italianate city shown at the foot of the crucifix, reveals van Dyck's exposure to Venetian art and displays his own response to the idiom of contemporary Baroque painting. Cast against a brooding sky and desolate landscape, Christ’s lonely and uncompromisingly vivid suffering is the central focus. The picture corresponds closely with a significantly smaller (133 x 101 cm.) rendition of the subject by van Dyck, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. The present painting was described by Horst Vey in the 2004 catalogue of the artist’s work as ‘the largest extant copy’ of the Vienna picture (op. cit.), however, it is unclear as to whether Vey inspected the work first-hand. There are evidently passages that indicate studio delegation, notably the loincloth, but the strikingly fluent handling in the figure of Christ points to van Dyck’s direct involvement in this commanding canvas.
Van Dyck's return to Antwerp in 1627 heralded the most prolific period of his career, when he is described as displaying a ‘positively inhumane appetite for work’ (G. Glück, Van Dyck: Des Meisters Gemälde, 2nd ed., Stuttgart and Berlin, 1931, p. XXVII, the translation quoted in Barnes et. al., op. cit., p. 240). Despite the effects of the ongoing war between the Spanish Netherlands and the States-General, the demand for Counter-Reformation art was still strong in Flanders; during the following years the artist received a vast number of commissions for religious works, possibly helped by Rubens’ absence from Antwerp between 1628 and 1630.
To contend with the demands of his patrons, van Dyck’s assistants came to play an increasingly important role in his studio. Although the identities of those working in his studio during this period are unknown, the number of variants and contemporary copies of his compositions attest to the importance of these assistants who would frequently be called on to paint the minor passages of his large-scale commissions.
The large number of copies and variants of this composition confirm its popularity. Vey (ibid.) records several, including one listed in Jan Boeckhorst's posthumous inventory of 1668, which is described as 'A Crucifix Copy, after Vandyck, by Sir P. Lely'. As Vey implies, it seems likely that the publication of Pontius' engraving, in 1631, after Rubens' Dying Christ may have given rise to the increased demand for works of this subject. It is not inconceivable that the present picture is that which van Dyck’s biographer Bellori (Le vite de’ pittori, scultori ed architetti moderni, Rome, 1672, p. 261) records as having been painted for Sir Kenelm Digby, an important patron during the artist’s years in England: ‘il Crocifisso spirante dal medesimo Cavaliere donato alla Principessa di Guéméné in Parigi (‘the expiring Christ on the Cross by the same knight, given to the Princess de Guéméné in Paris’). The recipient of that lost picture was presumably Anne de Rohan (d. 1685), Princesse de Guéméné.

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