DYCK, Sir Anthony van
(b. 1599, Antwerpen, d. 1641, London)

Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart

c. 1638
Oil on canvas, 238 x 146 cm
National Gallery, London

Early in 1639 the two Stuart brothers, cousins of King Charles I and younger sons of the third Duke of Lennox, set off on a three-year tour of the Continent. They must have posed for Van Dyck just before their departure. Since his arrival at the court, the artist had developed a new portrait type: the double portrait recording friendship, often, but not necessarily, between relatives. The two brothers are shown as if poised on the point of departure, waiting perhaps for servants to bring up their carriage. Both were to die a few years later in the Civil War, and hindsight gives the image an added valedictory poignancy.

Van Dyck's compositional skill is surpassed only by his matchless ability to depict satin, lace and meltingly-soft kid leather. But these carefully described effects are somehow not local: the whole surface of the canvas is brought alive with a flickering touch. The costumes, so fashionably similar, are beautifully contrasted - receding warm gold and brown on Lord John, cooler and advancing silver and blue on Lord Bernard - so that the two brothers, complementing each other in apparel, seem to form one shimmering, indivisible whole.