Van Dyck And The Print: The Iconography

In the early 1630s Van Dyck began a long-running project to make portrait prints, capitalizing on his fame as a portraitist.1 His sitters included aristocrats, soldiers, statesmen and scholars; the works exhibited here all show Van Dyck’s fellow artists. The series grew and developed over time, and would later be called The Iconography by a publisher. The venture required Van Dyck to take up printmaking himself and to collaborate with professional printmakers. Eighteen of the portraits were etched by Van Dyck. He also commissioned engravers to create prints after his own designs.

Impressions could be made at any time in the course of making a print, thus preserving a record of changes made to the plate; these are termed “states.” They offer a record of creativity, collaboration and revisions, some driven by aesthetic needs, some by the market.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, a fellow painter, is exhibited here as Van Dyck left the plate: the quick sketch distils the portrait down to its essence. Van Dyck seems to have been completely satisfied with the result, and this is one of the few etchings by the artist that was not subsequently revised in engraving by a professional printmaker at his direction. Impressions of the plate left in this state were printed and the work was undoubtedly known to fellow artists and collectors. However, this and the other etchings made by Van Dyck were not originally included in the Iconography and the scale of their distibution is unclear. It may simply be that Van Dyck felt such freely treated works, which rejected the expectations for finish and polish, were out of keeping with public taste. Sometime after his death in 1641 the plates for all of Van Dyck’s portraits were bought up by Gillis Hendricx, who published them together, ending the distinction between the autograph etchings and those made by engravers after the artist’s designs. Hendricx made no attempt to “finish” this print, suggesting that Van Dyck’s work was now valued on its own terms.

In contrast, Adam van Noort – Jordaens’ teacher, father-in-law and the model for the sly jester in As the Old Sing, so the Young Pipe – is a collaborative work. Van Dyck etched the portrait, but counted on the engraver to elaborate the stone wall to set off Van Noort’s figure, and which he had indicated only summarily. Van Dyck laid down parallel lines in etching as a kind of foundation for a printmaker to develop and elaborate in engraving.2 It is exhibited in two states: the first shows the results of the artists’ combined labour, and the second as published by Hendricx.

Lucas Vorsterman, an engraver who worked closely with Rubens and later with Van Dyck, is exhibited here in three states. The first shows the plate as Van Dyck left it: it is considerably more developed than either Brueghel or Van Noort, yet equally immediate. No attempt was made to hide a pentiment – the line at the base that shows an alternate lower edge to the composition – and there are clear signs of Van Dyck’s first thoughts for the drapery on Vorsterman’s left arm. The plate is itself rather damaged, scratches run through the subject’s face and acid has accidently scarred the metal at top left. Copper plates can be easily damaged or scratched, and etching is often difficult to control, so such artefacts are often tolerated by printmakers. Yet Van Dyck seems unusually indifferent to the marks that emphasize the means of making the print – it is not simply an image, but an impression taken from a scarred copper plate. A later state attempts to mitigate the damage and adds a narrow frame and text. The third impression shows a significant change: parallel hatching is added in engraving, setting off the figure from the ground. And the sitter’s moustache is lightly modified where it had printed too dark. While Van Dyck did not feel it necessary to alter the image, Hendricx had these changes made in an attempt to make the print seem more finished. These changes transform the image in a subtle, but significant way.

These three impressions are mounted together in an album, likely assembled in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. While less familiar to us now, this was a common practice by collectors in the past. Print collectors avidly sought different states of prints, valuing both their rarity and the insight they gave into the creative process.

Van Dyck also commissioned engravings from professional printmakers, providing them with models such as this drawing of Wenzel Cobergher, a painter and architect (illus. 1).3 He began by locating the forms in black chalk; a few pentiments are visible to the naked eye, such as the position of Cobergher’s right hand. The gesture was once more assertive and competed with that of his left. On reflection Van Dyck may have preferred only one to draw our attention. He then applied washes in different concentrations, taking care to reserve the white of the paper as highlights to guide the engraver. White gouache came next, added as the painter rethought the highlights.

The printmaker Vorsterman was responsible for turning the drawing into line that would both capture tone and describe form. The result is far more polished than Van Dyck’s etchings, and was published as a part of the Iconography, indicating the artist’s reading of contemporary taste. The sole major difference between the drawing and the print is in the position of his free hand, now out of the frame, continuing the development visible in the drawing. This suggests Van Dyck had instructed the printmaker through the process. The first state, exhibited here, is marked up with corrections, almost certainly by Van Dyck himself: darker wash shows where emphasis or shadow was required and indicates details to be added; white gouache (now discoloured) indicates where the white of the paper was to show through as highlights, or where the engraver was to lighten the tone by eliminating line. The wash and gouache make it difficult to interpret, but it is now clear that Vorsterman had to make extensive corrections, both adding and subtracting lines. This required him to burnish away lines he had already engraved, a laborious process – as for instance, on his proper right shoulder below his collar.4 The difficulty, combined with the subtlety of the changes adds weight to the claim they were made at Van Dyck’s direction. The print as completed is shown to the right.

Anthony van Dyck, Pieter Brueghel the Younger

from the series The Iconography. Early 1630s
Etching. 24.7 × 15.7 cm (plate)
A. Purchased 1948, no. 5217. Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991 no. 2 state i (vi)
B. Purchased 1948, no. 5218. Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991 no. 2 state iv (vi)

Anthony van Dyck and an unknown engraver, Adam van Noort

from the series The Iconography, early 1630s

Etching and engraving. 24.3 × 15.6 cm (plate)
A. Purchased 1948, no. 5232. Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991 no. 8 state ii (vii).
B. Purchased 1948, no. 5233. Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991 no. 8 state iv (vii)

Anthony van Dyck, Lucas Vorsterman the Elder

from the series The Iconography, early 1630s
Etching. 24.4 × 15.7 cm (plate)
A. Purchased 1948, no. 5247. Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991 no. 14 state i (vii)
B. Purchased 1948, no. 5248. Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991 no. 14 state ii (vii)
C. The background added in engraving. Purchased 1948, no. 5249. Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991 no. 14 state v (vii)

Lucas Vorsterman the Elder after Anthony van Dyck, Wenzel Cobergher

from the series The Iconography, early 1630s
Engraving. 23.6 × 17.9 cm (plate)
A. A proof heightened with wash and gouache, likely by Van Dyck. Purchased 1948, no. 5353.
Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991 no. 77 state i (vii)
B. Purchased 1948, no. 5354. Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991 no. 77 state iii (vii)

Anthony van Dyck, Self-portrait

from the series The Iconography, early 1630s
Etching.11.9 × 10.8 cm (sheet, trimmed within platemark)
Purchased 1948, no. 5221
Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991 no. 4 state: i (vii)

Paulus Pontius after Anthony van Dyck, Sir Peter Paul Rubens

from the series The Iconography, early 1630s
Engraving. 23.3 × 15.6 cm (plate)
Purchased 1948, no. 5333
Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991 no. 62 state: iv (viii)

Pieter de Jode the Younger after Anthony van Dyck, Jacob Jordaens

from the series The Iconography, early 1630s
Engraving. 24.6 × 17.6 cm (plate)
Purchased 1948, no. 5293
Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991 no. 33 state: ii (vi)


1 The fundamental studies are Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991 and the volumes in New Hollstein Van Dyck by Simon Turner which offer catalogues of Van Dyck’s print production, and Antwerp & Amsterdam 1999–2000.

2 Antwerp & Amsterdam 1999–2000, p. 124, argues that after Van Dyck had etched the figure, he left the task of etching the wall to an assistant who misunderstood his directions, requiring later correction in engraving.

3 Vey 1962, no. 274.

4 The descriptions in Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1991, no. 77 and New Hollstein Van Dyck pt. 2, no. 54, do not capture the full extent of the revisions.

Anthony van Dyck,
Pieter Brueghel the Younger, etching, 24.7 × 15.7 cm (plate). A. Purchased 1948, no. 5217. State i (vi)

Anthony van Dyck,
Pieter Brueghel the Younger, etching, 24.7 × 15.7 cm (plate). B. Purchased 1948, no. 5218. State iv (vi)

Anthony van Dyck and an unknown engraver, Adam van Noort, etching and engraving, 24.3 × 15.6 cm (plate). A. Purchased 1948, no. 5232. State ii (vii).

Anthony van Dyck and an unknown engraver, Adam van Noort, etching and engraving, 24.3 × 15.6 cm (plate). B. Purchased 1948, no. 5233. State iv (vii)

Anthony van Dyck,
Lucas Vorsterman the Elder, etching, 24.4 × 15.7 cm (plate). A. Purchased 1948, no. 5247. State i (vii)

Anthony van Dyck,
Lucas Vorsterman the Elder, etching, 24.4 × 15.7 cm (plate). B. Purchased 1948, no. 5248. State ii (vii)

Anthony van Dyck,
Lucas Vorsterman the Elder, etching, 24.4 × 15.7 cm (plate). C. The background added in engraving. Purchased 1948, no. 5249. State v (vii)

illus. 1

Anthony van Dyck,
Portrait of Wensel Coeberger, black chalk with wash, 22.4 × 19.8 cm. Collection Amsterdam Museum.

Lucas Vorsterman the Elder after Anthony van Dyck, Wenzel Cobergher, engraving, 23.6 × 17.9 cm (plate). A. A proof heightened with wash and gouache, likely by Van Dyck. Purchased 1948, no. 5353. State i (vii)

Lucas Vorsterman the Elder after Anthony van Dyck, Wenzel Cobergher, engraving, 23.6 × 17.9 cm (plate). B. Purchased 1948, no. 5354. State iii (vii)