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Work of the Week: Van Dyck

Portrait prints are portraits that can be easily reproduced, as opposed to a painting. Since the portrait print could be copied so easily, it implied that the subject had mass appeal and the print would be highly desired. In 17th-century Europe, they usually featured internationally recognized figures like monarchs, diplomats, and scholars. 

Many artists would also create self-portrait prints. The image above opens the exhibition Van Dyck, Rembandt, and the Portrait Print and was created by Anthony van Dyck, a 17th-century Flemish artist. While Van Dyck was best known as a painter of royal subjects, he also created a wide variety of prints and this particular example was widely considered to be Van Dyck's greatest triumph in the etching medium.

As in a number of his self-portraits, he has turned his back on the viewer and seems to turn around at the last second. While his head is in the upper third of the composition, he has dramatically left the rest of the paper blank. As exhibition curator Victoria Sancho Lobis says, "Van Dyck made a revolutionary decision to create this portrait in a completely abbreviated fragmentary state...and that creates this very dramatic contrast of a highly finished description of the face with this completely unprinted area of the paper below it."

As Van Dyck would have hoped, this print became highly desired among collectors almost immediately and was quoted in other prints and paintings. Learn more about how Van Dyck transformed expectations of what a portrait print could be and served to influence future generations of artists in Van Dyck, Rembrandt, and the Portrait Print, on view through August 7. 

Anthony van Dyck. Self-Portrait, 1630/33. Clarence Buckingham Collection.