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A Focus on two Portraits of Anthony van Dyck

Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, 1632-3 & Lady Anne Carr, Countess of Bedford. 1638

von Cristina Flores (Autor:in)
Hausarbeit 2011 14 Seiten


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, 1632-3
2.1. First Impressions
2.2. Analysis
2.2.1. Formal Aspects
2.2.2. Costume and Body
2.2.3. Props

3. Lady Anne Carr, Countess of Bedford, 1638
3.1. First Impressions
3.2. Analysis
3.2.1. Formal Aspects
3.2.2. Costume and Body
3.2.3. Props

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Restoration England has an exceptionally rich cultural heritage including music, architecture and art. In the course of this seminar we got to know this heritage for instance through Purcell’s operaDido and Aeneas, Inigo Jones’ buildings or Anthony van Dyck’s paintings.

In this essay I will focus on two single portraits of the Flemish painter and portratist Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641). The first one portrays Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford (1632) and the second one Lady Anne Carr, Countess of Bedford (1638). Both paintings were painted during the 1630’s - the Caroline era - in Britain. Charles I became the king of England in 1625 and one can say that the first fifteen years of reign were “remarkably peaceful”1even if he reigned without a parliament and only with the help of some confidants inter alia Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford. There were only conflicts in religious matters as Charles I married a catholic woman in Protestant England which caused the first strained relations between the two religious groups. Additionally, the Bishop of London wanted to abolish the Presbyterian Church constitution in Scotland and insert the Anglican Church instead. This led to the Scot’s protest and invasion of England. Finally, all these factors unleashed an uprising and the Civil War in the 1640’s.2

Another interesting fact is that the Court of Charles I has been called the “last Renaissance Court in England [which was] extremely formal, imbued with an atmosphere of elegance and […] high morality”3. Additionally, there was the idea of Platonic Love at Court which came from Italy. Its main notion was “the transference of the Platonic pattern of divine love to a chosen lady, who was then to be worshipped as the embodiment[!] of highest perfection”4.

To show all the aims and meanings of van Dyck’s portraits I chose a portrait of a man and one of a woman. In both cases I will start by noting my first impressions and then, in a second step, analyse the portrait following a precise scheme. There will be an analysis of the formal aspect and afterwards of the costume, the body and the props used. At the end, there will be a conclusion summarising the most crucial features of van Dyck’s courtly portraits.

2. Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, 1632-3

2.1. First Impressions

What strikes me first looking at the painting of Thomas Wentworth is that he is standing very upright, proud and self-confident. Additionally, it is his black, shiny and heavy-looking armour that impresses me. I think that this armour is supposed to intimidate opponents and protect him at the same time. Presumably, Thomas Wentworth was a general of high status so that van Dyck wanted to express his strength and courage in this painting. There is also a great light-dark contrast which is displayed through the black armour and background on the right hand side and the white and beige background and the dog on the left hand side. Another aspect I noticed was that dog in the picture is very tall as he already reaches Wentworth’s waist. Would it stand upright he would be nearly the same height as his master. Maybe van Dyck uses the tall dog to highlight once more Wentworth’s superiority but also the trusting relationship between the animal and his master.

2.2. Analysis

2.2.1. Formal Aspects

The painting of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, oil on canvas, measures 213,2x138,2cm.5It is vertical and potrays its sitter over-sized and in full-lenght. This format shows that van Dyck wanted to present Wentworth bigger than the spectator so that he has a low viewpoint and therefore has to look up to Wentworth. The result of this is a considerable distance which has the effect to emphasise Wentworth’s higher status and potential characteristics such as proudness, strength and superiority. Even if there is a lack of depth in this picture, van Dyck added a “two-dimensional quality, as well as a more decorative outlook”6or rather props with symbolic meanings such as the dog and the column.

In terms of colour it is remarkable that they are only very light colours in the picture such as beige or very dark ones, mainly black. As the eyes catch the light colours it is likely that van Dyck wanted the observer to look at the dog first and then to follow the dog’s eyes which look at Thomas Wentworth. Thus, it is the colours leading the spectators’ eyes to the props first whose interpretation will follow in another subchapter.

A further important feature of this paining which emphasises the figure is chiaroscuro. The light comes from bottom left since the dog’s paws and Wentworth’s feet cast long shadows to an upper right diagonal direction. Additionally, one can see a strong reflection in his armour. Consequently, he is standing towards the light source so that the spotlight is completely trained on him.

2.2.2. Costume and Body

Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, was King Charles’ “chief unofficial adviser”7and was therefore kindly regarded. As a man with high status he was portrayed by van Dyck in armour to express the ideal male characteristic at that time: “heroic virtue”8. This heroic virtue is also related to “the image of a knight [who is] [...] not only a warrior, but slave to his lady”9which was actual at the Caroline court and related to the concept of Platonic love. Moreover, this armour of steel evokes several associations. On the one hand it displays Wentworth’s status since an armour evidently requires many hours of labor and a lot of effort. It only fits Wentworth like a tailor-made-suit is only made for a single person. On the other hand it is meant to communicate functional properties such as physical protection and intimidation. These properties are also highlighted through the helmet on the column, the sword on the left side of his armour and the stick in his left hand. In contrast to his black, shiny armour and he is wearing beige riding-boots with spurs and a white collar. Both bright parts of his costume frame visually his black costume and thus put the focus on it.

Another important aspect is Wentworth’s posture. He is standing upright but the left part of his body is turned to the spectator. Additionally, his right leg is slightly stretched to the front. The reason for standing sideways and stretching the leg is that, in this position, most of the armour can be shown. If Wentworth stood straight one would only see the front side of it and the sword would only be outlined. Van Dyck’s portrait of Wentworth as a military commander “derived from “Titian’s portrait of Charles V with a hound”10. Titian was van Dyck “admired example [...] and also [King] Charles’s favourite painter”11which again stresses Wentworth status as the “’wisest head in England’”12having the honour of being portraited like a king who was portraited by an admired painter as Titian. Moreover, this posture is also more natural regarding his position to the dog even it is noticeable about this position that he is laying his hand on the dog’s head but not looking at him. It demonstrates that he loves his dog but also wants to keep eye-contact with the spectator as this expresses strength and superiority. His facial expression underlines his posture as it can be described as “[...] full of severity, of mournful anxiety, of deep thought [and] dauntless resolution”13. Knowing that Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford was made “Lord Deputy of Ireland”14in January 1632, his face additionally displays pride and harshness. The artist’s observation of the sitter’s face is thus highly analytical as he manages to paint his emotions and thoughts especially through the eyes’ gaze and the mouth.

2.2.3. Props

Van Dyck uses in these paintings two important props: the column and the dog. “Because of the fashion set by Titian and other Venetians, […] columns, alone or in combination, had become common as backdrops for portraits […] presenting the sitter as a pillar of his profession”15meaning that the sitter is the best man in his profession, which definitely fitted Wentworth. The pillar therefore supports the sitter’s strength and can be seen as the mirror image of Wentworth. In other words: “The pillar authenticates the firmness, resolution, dignity of the man, and suggests the harmonious proportions of his soul”16.

A further important prop or rather animal in this picture is the large “Irish wolfhound”17. This dog possesses an “excellent reputation as companion […]”18and is the “mute symbol of the country [Wentworth] has tamed, [namely Ireland]”19.

Thus, van Dyck uses the dog to demonstrate Wentworth’s power over Ireland being the new Lord Deputy of this country.

3. Lady Anne Carr, Countess of Bedford, 1638

3.1. First Impressions

Looking at the painting of Lady Anne Carr it is her magnificent blue dress that catches my attention first. This clothing and the jewelry she wears indicates that he comes from a wealthy family. Moreover, the dark, black background stands in a great contrast to her light blue shimmering dress and to her bright white face. Both her clothing and her face seem to be the focus of the painting. What I also find striking is the strong dissimilarity in terms of drawing techniques. Lady Anne Carr is painted very detailed, dynamic and realistic whereas the background is quite blurred, unrealistic and static. Therefore, it is highly likely that van Dyck wanted to put the focus solely on the woman and did not want the viewers to be distracted by the background.

3.2. Analysis

3.2.1. Formal Aspects

The painting of Lady Anne Carr, oil on canvas, has the measures 136,2x109,9 cm.20This size and the fact that it is vertical suggests that she was maybe portrayed nearly in life-size. Additionally, only three quarters of her body are shown and she is looking straight to the observer. All these aspects display that van Dyck wanted to convey certain closeness between Lady Anne Carr and the observer. Especially the length of the painting highlights this as the whole persons’ bodies are never seen when standing in front of them, except one turns one’s head down. The effect of this

proximity is that Lady Anne Carr seems to be approachable and that one is able to look at her directly in her face. It is likely that van Dyck wanted everybody to look at her closely so that her prettiness could be seen immediately since Lady Anne Carr corresponded to the ideal of beauty at that time. In terms of pictorial space this painting lacks in depth. Lady Anne Carr is standing in the foreground whereas the vase, the rosebush and the sky are behind her. There is nothing else in the background which could distract the observer to look at Lady Anne Carr.

Other factors which put emphasis on the figure are the colours and chiaroscuro effects. Her dress is of blue silk garment which stands in contrast to the orange foulard around her. Van Dyck uses these complementary colours to influence the viewer’s eyes into the direction of Lady Carr. Complementary colours cause “the effect of great contrast when the hues are placed side by side in quite strong intensity, for each then heightens the intensity of the other”21. Additionally “a statically fixed image”22is given through these hues and, in this case of orange and blue, also “an extreme cold-warm contrast”23. In terms of chiaroscuro the observer cannot see where the light source is but nevertheless it becomes obvious that there is a spotlight trained on her as her skin is very bright and her dress is reflecting the light. This also indicates that the dress has to be of a certain shiny material which is able to reflect the light such as silk.

What these colours and material used for the dress express will be analysed in more detail in the next subchapter.

3.2.2. Costume and Body

As already mentioned in the previous subchapter Lady Anne Carr’s dress is in this painting very eye-catching. The reason for this is that “it was through women’s dress that van Dyck articulated the ideal of feminine beauty”24. This beauty was for instance shown through the removal of the lace collar and highlighted through the little flower in the neckline. But beauty was not only stressed by the removal of the lace collar but also because of the pushing up of the sleeves. The leaving out of cloth leads to the exposure of naked skin which was very unusual at that time and seen as indecent. In other words: “Van Dyck exposed the wrists and lower arm, a part of the body that seems innocent enough to us today but that apparently was laden with the erotic at the beginning of the seventeenth century”25. The idea of painting Lady Anne Carr and other noble ladies at that time was not just a matter of chance. “The fact is that most ladies portrayed by Anthony were clad according to the French fashion, elegant and supply draped, imported by Queen Henrietta Maria”26which aimed at creating “a dress that was universally perceived as ‘timeless’”.27Equally, she wears her hair “according to the fashion of that time: it curls freely around the side of her head and loose curls dart out over her forehead”28and was therefore completely in conformity with the ideal of beauty. Nevertheless, van Dyck also created a variation of the contemporary dresses he painted in England after 1635 by “[simplifying] current dress styles by […] adding […] large jewels, lush drapery, and fluttering sleeves”29with the result of a “’careless romance’”30. These new subtle variation of the dress can be found in Lady Anne Carr’s painting as well: she wears a striking pearl necklace, a pearly belt around her waist and fluttering sleeves which reach the elbow.


1Charles Carlton. Charles I, the Personal Monarch (London: Routledge, 1995) 196.

2Ibid. 123-200.

3Erik Larsen. “Van Dyck’s English Period and Cavalier Poetry.” Art Journal 31 (1972) : 254.

4Ibid 257.

5Christopher Brown and Hans Vlieghe. Van Dyck 1599-1641 (London: Royal Academy, 1999) 248

6Erik Larsen. The Paintings of Anthony van Dyck I (Freren: Luca, 1988) 298.

7Brown and Vlieghe 248.

8Emilie Gordenker. Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) and the Representation of Dress in Seventeen-Century Potraiture (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001) 21.

9Ibid. 21.

10Arthur Wheelock et al. Van Dyck Paintings. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1991) 323.

11Anthony Powell. Some Poets, Artists and ‘A Reference for Mellors’ (London: Timewell Press Limited, 2005) 179.

12Christopher Brown. Van Dyck (New York: Cornell University Press, 1983) 207.

13Brown and Vlieghe 249.

14Ibid. 248.

15Wheelock 60.

16Graham Parry. The Golden Age Restor’d: The Culture of the Stuart Court, 1603-42 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1981) 219.

17Wheelock 322.

18Rawdon Briggs-Lee. A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Elibron Classics, 2006) 200.

19Andrew Graham-Dixon. A History of British Art (California: California Press, 1996) 67.

20Brown and Vlieghe 322.

21Internet Walter Sargant. The Enjoyment and Use of Color (Toronto: General Publishing Company, 1964) 132.

22Johannes Itten and Faber Birren. The Elements of Color: A Treatise on the Color System of Johannes Itten (Ravensburg: Ravensburger Buchverlag, 1961) 49.

23Ibid. 49.

24Gordenker. Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) and the Representation of Dress in Seventeen-Century Potraiture 19.

25Ibid. 19.

26Larsen The Paintings of Van Dyck 378.

27Gordenker 23.

28Emilie Gordecker. “The Rhetoric of Dress in Seventeenth-Century Dutch and Flemish Portraiture” The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 57 (1999) : 95.

29Ibid. 93.

30Ibid. 93.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
393 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Paderborn
2014 (März)
Anthony van Dyck Cultural Heritage Paintings Portraits


  • Cristina Flores (Autor:in)


Titel: A Focus on two Portraits of Anthony van Dyck