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Jan de Wael. From Icones principum virorum ('The Iconography')
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Jan de Wael. From Icones principum virorum ('The Iconography')
Work Type
prints, etchings, engravings, portraits, works on paper
etching and engraving
Plate: 172mm (width), 251mm (height), Support: 228mm (width), 344mm (height)

The Iconography (Icones principum virorum) is a very large series of portrait prints made after drawings and paintings by the famous Antwerp - and later international - court artist and painter, Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641). Eighteen prints were etched by the artist himself, although the majority are engravings made by a variety of printmakers: van Dyck found painting more profitable than printmaking. This compilation of portraits of princes, politicians, soldiers, statesmen, scholars, art connoisseurs and most importantly artists, a survey of the most distinguished men and women of his time, went through many editions.

At the time of van Dyck's premature death, there were 80 such prints (52 were of artists); in the late 18th century this had grown to over 200. The Iconography proved hugely influential as a commercial model for reproductive printmaking, and influenced portrait painting in turn. It only became superseded in the mid-19th century with the advent of photography.

While the original 18 'icons' are the most prized, especially in their early states, engraving was added by other hands, in many instances commissioned and approved by van Dyck himself and executed by highly skilled practitioners such as Paulus Pontius, Schelte Adamsz. Bolswert and Lucas Vorsterman, as here. Sometimes his work is obscured by them, to the dismay of purist connoisseurs!

In art historical terms, van Dyck's own etchings are greatly admired. He was a brilliant technician, and his 'unfinished but complete' approach, where the heads are fully worked out but the costume and hands unfinished, is remarkably modern. This went on to influence portraitists of later centuries, particularly those who believed in 'bravura' and virtuosity, such as John Singer Sargent and Augustus John. Print expert Arthur Hind wrote: 'Portrait etching had scarcely had an existence before his time, and in his work it suddenly appears at the highest point ever reached in the art'.

A member of the older generation of artists, Jan de Wael (1558-1633) made the customary trip to Italy, before returning to Antwerp and becoming dean of the painters' guild in 1594. He married Gertrude de Jode, sister of Pieter de Jode, whose son engraved some of the portraits for the Iconography. Van Dyck lived with de Wael's sons, Lucas and Cornelis when he travelled to Genoa, where the brothers had set up a studio.

Although this print is the fifth of six states of the etching/engraving, and has a background added by an unknown engraver, it retains the bravura and credibility of van Dyck's original etching: de Wael, who wears a magnificant ruff, is measuring up the viewer in his gaze, which has something of the intensity of a self-portrait. The body language, with the left arm akimbo, only emphasises this.


Fitzwilliam Museum, 'Jan de Wael...',

Wikipedia, 'Anthony van Dyck',

Dr Mark Stocker Curator, Historical International Art September 2018

New Hollstein Dutch 15/VI

Collection: Art
Gift of Bishop Monrad, 1869
Accession Number
Image and original data provided by Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa
Use of this image is in accordance with the Artstor Terms & Conditions
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