This remarkable picture of the musician Hendrick Liberti, one of the most arresting portraits of van Dyck’s second Antwerp period, was by 1639 in the collection of King Charles I at Whitehall. Subsequently acquired by the statesman Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington, it remained in the possession of his descendants, the Dukes of Grafton, until its sale at Christie’s in 1923: although the picture was known to Lionel Cust and Gustav Glück, and included in major exhibitions in 1899 and 1900, it has not been seen, even by scholars in the field, since the 1923 auction.
Hendrick (or Henricus) Liberti (c. 1600- 1669), was as van der Doort fairly stated: ‘one of the Chiefe Musitians in Antwerp’ (Millar, op. cit., 1960). The son of Libertus von Groeningham, who thus must have come from Groningen in northern Holland, he was a chorister from s’-Hertogenbosch, who in 1617 became a singer in the cathedral choir at Antwerp. He was a composer and a highly successful organist, appointed organist to the cathedral on 17 March 1628 and retaining that post until 1669. He also worked for the court at Brussels. His first publication, Cantiones sacrae..., was apparently issued at Antwerp in 1621. This was to be followed by other works, many of which are now lost, as is the case with his Paduanes et Galiardes, which appeared at Antwerp in 1632, and the Fasciculus Missarum of 1646. Of his extant compositions, the best known are the fourteen Cantiones natalite issued between 1648 and 1657, which are ‘homophic carols on Dutch texts in a strophic binary form’ (R.A. Rasch, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, London, 2001, 14, p. 636). As Vey noted (op. cit., 2004), on the basis of de Jode’s print (fig 2), rather than the Munich version of this portrait, see infra, the sheet of music Liberti holds— surely a manuscript—is of a four-part canon: ‘Ars longa ars ars longa vita brevis’ (Art endures, life is short). Vey suggests that the gold chains worn in the portrait were awarded to Liberti at Brussels, where no doubt his galiards were performed. He also suggests that the portrait was commissioned by Liberti himself ‘to mark his appointment at the cathedral’. Had he done so, however, it would seem rather odd that within a decade this portrait would have been owned by King Charles I and placed next to the portrait, of almost identical size, of another prominent musician, Nicholas Lanier, now in Vienna (fig. 1; Vey, op. cit., 2004, no. III.92), ‘Master of His Majesty’s Music’, who was one of the agents employed in the formation of the king’s celebrated collection. It is thus perhaps possible that Lanier was in some way concerned with the commission, but it should be remembered that van Dyck himself had musical interests, which are expressed in a number of pictures of the Italian period and in an exceptional portrait of the London period, that of François Langlois (1589-1647), known as ‘Chiartres’ after his native city of Chartres (prime version, London, National Gallery, and Birmingham, Barber Institute) (see, for example, Glück, op. cit., 1936). The very large number of early copies of the portrait no doubt attests as much to the contemporary celebrity of the sitter as to the originality of van Dyck’s characterisation of him.
Van Dyck was perhaps Liberti’s senior by only a year, and so was aged eighteen when Liberti moved to Antwerp, but he had already established a position as the most gifted of the younger artists trained under Rubens. As the artistic and musical worlds were closely linked, it is very possible that the two had met before 3 October 1621, when van Dyck left for Italy. From the outset of his career it must have been clear to van Dyck’s contemporaries that he was a portraitist of remarkable perception and acuity; but it was in Italy, where he worked in Rome, in Palermo and, above all, in Genoa, that van Dyck came of age as a portraitist. Although, as was the case with Rubens, who also owed so much to his experience of Italy, portraiture was only one facet of his production. He had made a serious study of what he had seen in Italy, and paid particular attention to the work of Titian. When van Dyck returned to Antwerp in the summer of 1627, now aged 28, he could claim a European reputation.
Van der Doort stated that the picture was ‘done’ in Antwerp, and this is clearly the case. Lanier was in Antwerp in the summer of 1628, and the Vienna portrait is dated to that year by Millar, Vey, Vlieghe and Wheelock (Vey, op. cit., 2004, p. 321). A similar dating seems very plausible for the portrait of Liberti, in which van Dyck, as so often, echoes Titian, not least in the shimmering brilliance of the silk costume, which is handled with a consistent delicacy. Vey considered the pose of this portrait ‘another pointer to a date soon after van Dyck’s return from Italy’ in 1627 (ibid., p. 328). This is surely correct.
Version and Copies
Version and Copies Due to the inaccessibility of this portrait, the type has for nearly a century been best known from the version in Munich (fig. 3), which Vey regarded as the ‘best repetition’ and is considered to be partly autograph by Denk (op. cit.): this was sold by Alexander Voet in Antwerp in 1687 to the prominent merchant who was the outstanding collector in the city, Gisbert van Colen, whose collection was sold en bloc in 1698 to Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria. Relatively recently restored, this is evidently a substantially autograph replica; and as it is first recorded in Antwerp may well have been painted for the sitter. It would appear to be of automatic quality. Denk lists numerous copies: Madrid, Prado; Potsdam, Neues Palais; Aix, Musée de Ville; Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum; Knole, Sackville collection; five others that have passed through the saleroom; and a grisaille which was with F. Enneling in Amsterdam in 1957 (ibid., p. 157, note 9).
This portrait was owned by van Dyck’s greatest single patron, King Charles I, who formed what was until its dispersal in 1650 the outstanding collection of pictures in northern Europe. The first documentary reference to the picture is in Abraham van der Doort’s inventory of the king’s collection prepared in 1639. It was then in the Bear Gallery at Whitehall with thirty-four other pictures, which reflected the range of Charles I’s taste, including a Titian portrait of the Emperor Charles V and two celebrated masterpieces by van Dyck’s master, Rubens, Daniel in the Lions’ Den (Washington, National Gallery of Art) and War and Peace (London, National Gallery), as well as four other works by van Dyck, among which were the portrait of Henrietta of Lorraine (Kenwood, Iveagh Bequest), and the celebrated portrait of Nicolas Lanier, mentioned above. This portrait of Liberti follows that of Lanier in the inventory, and in view of the similarity of size of the two it might be suggested that these were hung as pendants. However, the Lanier portrait is listed as in a gilt frame, while this picture was in a ‘streyning’ frame. This might mean that it was a recent acquisition that was to be paired with the Vienna picture. The latter was certainly still at Whitehall in 1650, but that of Liberti was recorded among ‘Several Pictures’ at St. James’s Palace. Lanier himself bought his own portrait at the Commonwealth sale of the King’s Goods, while that of Liberti was purchased for £23, marginally more than the £20 at which it had been valued, by the Antwerp-born painter and agent, Jan Baptiste Gaspars (1620-1692), who had settled in London and was to remain there, working both for Lely and other painters, as well as independently, until his death.
If the picture remained in London, it was not among those recovered for the Crown at the Restoration in 1660. As strenuous efforts were made to reclaim works bought by such purchasers as Lord Lisle, it is intriguing that the portrait of Liberti was acquired by a close associate of King Charles II and one who would have been unlikely to hang such a picture without at least the king’s tacit approval. Henry Bennet (1618-1685), who was educated at Westminster and Christ Church, was a man of considerable intellect. In 1643 he served at the court of King Charles I in Oxford under George, Lord Digby, later 1st Earl of Bristol, who had commissioned van Dyck’s celebrated double portrait of himself with William, Lord Russell, now at Althorp. He later served as a volunteer in the royal forces, before travelling in France and Italy. In 1654 Bennet became secretary to James, Duke of York, younger brother of the exiled King Charles II. In 1658 he was sent as the latter’s emissary to Madrid, and he was still en post there at the time of the Restoration in 1660. On Bennet’s return to London he was appointed Master of the Privy Purse, and in October 1662 he was nominated as Secretary of State. He was one of the five ministers in the so-called Cabal Ministry. An excellent linguist, he was considered by John Evelyn to be the ‘best bred & Courtly person his Majestie has about him’ (de Beer, op. cit., IV, p. 118, 10 September 1677). Rather remarkably he married a cadet member of the House of Orange, Isabella von Beverweerd, daughter of Louis of Nassau, Lord of De Lek and Beverweerd (1602-1665), a natural son of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange, and kinsman therefore of the catholic John VIII, Count of Nassau-Siegen (1583-1638), who commissioned the spectacular family portrait from van Dyck now at Firle (Vey, op. cit., 2004, no. III.111). In 1672, the year in which Bennet was created Earl of Arlington, his daughter, Isabella married Charles II’s second natural son by Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Grafton: because of her youth at the time the two were remarried in 1679.
Arlington resigned the secretaryship in 1674, and was appointed Lord Chamberlain. Increasingly he concentrated his very considerable energies on Euston, the estate he had acquired in Suffolk. His new house there, in a chaste classical style, has been attributed to William Samwell, who worked for the king nearby at Newmarket and is known to have been in touch with him. More remarkable than his Euston Hall, however, was the park, where Arlington planted on an ambitious, indeed extravagant, scale, seeking advice from Evelyn, the acknowledged expert on trees of the age. Evelyn spent three weeks at Euston in the late summer of 1677 and described his host’s work on the house, the park and garden buildings, as well as the church in considerable detail. He noted that there were ‘many excellent Pictures…of the greate Masters’ in the house (de Beer, op. cit., IV, p. 116). Arlington kept other pictures in London. When he dined at Arlington’s offcial lodgings at Whitehall on 16 November 1676, Evelyn commented on a number of these: Sebastiano del Piombo’s Cardinal Ferry Carondelet with his Secretary (Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza), then attributed to Raphael; a ‘womans head’ given to Leonardo; a Holy Family with Saints thought to be by Palma Vecchio (Christie’s, 13 July 1923, lot 146); and two ‘Van-Dykes’, ‘his owne picture at length when young, in a leaning posture’ (a version exhibited in 1886- 7 of the Portrait of the Artist at St. Petersburg; Barnes, op. cit., no. II.26); and this portrait of Liberti. Evelyn was clearly impressed by these and finished his account with the appreciative words: ‘but rare pieces indeede’ (de Beer, op. cit.).
On Arlington’s death in 1685, his estates and possessions passed to his daughter, Isabella, Duchess of Grafton, and Countess of Arlington in her own right. Her husband died in 1690, but she lived until February 1723. She evidently transferred the pictures her father had kept in London to Euston, where many of these remained until the 1923 sale.