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

Porrtrait of the Sculptor Duquesnoy (?)

Oil on canvas, 77,5 x 61 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

In this portrait by Anthony van Dyck, a brown-haired man, wearing a beard and a moustache, is represented in three-quarter profile, turned to the left against a dark, uniform background. He is wearing a dark cloth garment, decorated with a ruff and white cuffs, and holds a stone sculpted head representing a satyr. The dark colours serve to emphasise the sitter's attentive gaze and elegant hand, whilst the vivacity of the face contrasts with the immobility of the sculpture. For a long time this painting was held to be a portrait of the Brussels sculptor François Duquesnoy, who lived and worked in Rome from 1618 to 1643, where he developed a classical style that was strongly influenced by his study of antique sculpture and by the works of French painter Nicolas Poussin. This portrait would then have been painted during a trip that Anthony van Dyck made to Rome around 1622/23, where he supposedly struck up a friendship with the sculptor.

However, this famous painting presents problems as to the date of painting and in particular the identity of the sitter. The traditional identification was based on an engraving by Pieter van Bleeck in 1751 from the portrait in the Brussels museum, with an inscription mentioning the sculptor's name and a short biographical text. This has recently been called into question. Bellori's biography of the sculptor, published in 1672, mentions neither a friendship between the two men in Rome, nor a portrait of his compatriot by Van Dyck. What the biography does mention is that Duquesnoy was fair-haired and had blue eyes. Moreover, the engraved portrait illustrating his text, repeated in 1675 by Joachim von Sandrart in the Teutsche Academie, shows little resemblance to the present portrait, nor to the late engraving from it by Pieter van Bleeck. In addition, stylistic analysis has shown that the picture could not belong to Anthony van Dyck's Italian period, but must be placed in his second Flemish period, where the colour range was more contained. This portrait is indeed by Van Dyck, but after his Italian trip, around 1627/29, when the painter was back in the country to which the Brussels sculptor never returned.