Van Dyck

Just another WordPress site


Cashing in on the Van Dyck name – books and the book market in Europe in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe

I have chosen to examine the market and economics surrounding the printing of the book of images based on portraits by Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), now generally known by the title, Iconography (although this title was only used for the fourth edition published in 1759). This essay will focus more on the book market than the economics of the project, partially because it has proved difficult to ascertain the particulars of the latter. In order to highlight the significance of the volume contained in the Edward Worth Library (second edition published by Gillis Hendricx, fl. 1640, d. 1677), and the book market in general, I have expanded my research to include all editions of the publication and an overview of the Dutch book market. What becomes clear in this analysis is the pulling power of the Van Dyck name, and how publishers leveraged that same name in an attempt to sell books of his portraits for more than one hundred years after his death.

Image 1: Engraved title page of Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641).

The Editions

It will come as no surprise that Antwerp was the hub for the creation and production of Iconography, as during the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth centuries, it was the commercial centre of the Low Countries. In addition, it was home to many famous artists, including Van Dyck and Rubens (1577-1640), the best engravers including Paul Pontius (1603-1658) and Lucas Vorsterman (1595-1675), as well as being an important centre for publishing.  One of the enduring sagas in examining Iconography is to determine Van Dyck’s personal involvement in the project and what return he might have gained from it. Unfortunately, much of this is clouded in mystery and it is difficult to determine what his exact input was. From Hind’s perspective, Van Dyck was the main mover behind the project.[1] What is clear is that Van Dyck wanted all the images to be printed after his own designs rather than relying on those produced by other artists. He produced fifteen etchings himself and enlisted the top engravers of the period, most of whom lived in the Antwerp region, to produce the remainder. The second edition of Iconography, published in 1645, four years after Van Dyck’s death in 1641, and all subsequent editions, state on the title page that the copper plates for the printing of the images were produced at Van Dyck’s expense. The production of these copper plates, as confirmed by Harms et al., would have been an expensive business.[2]

The popularity of this form of book and the enduring fame of Van Dyck as a portraitist is evidenced in the fact that there were at least four full scale editions of Iconography produced, plus a number of smaller editions produced as supplements to them. To this, must be added the large number of single sheets produced to satisfy the demand of collectors of prints.  The first edition, published by Martin van den Enden (1605-1673), appeared in around 1632 and contained eighty plates – sixteen portraits of royalty and military men, twelve men of state and intellectuals (savants) and fifty-two artists.[3] Despite apparently working closely together on the project, the plates etched by Van Dyck himself were not included in this production. As there is no copy of these in book form extant, nor any apparent title page, Marie Mauquoy-Hendrickx, who has written extensively on the subject, suggests that Van Dyck and Van den Enden published the portraits in groups, and sold them as such, i.e. they were not bound together in book format any stage.[4]

The plates changed hands in 1644, bought by publisher Gillis Hendricx, who also acquired the fifteen plates etched by Van Dyck himself. He published a second edition in 1645/6, with a Latin title Icones Principum Virorum Doctorum (Image 1). It contained a total of 100 plates (hence known as La Centurie), and featured ten different engravers – this is the edition in the Edward Worth Library. According to Mauquoy-Hendrickx, complete editions are very rare, most having been broken up into single sheets and sold separately.[5]

Image 2: Title page of c. 1700 Verdussen edition from the digital collections of the University Library Erlangen-Nueremberg. Available at:

The plates were sold again following Hendricx’s death in 1677. As with many of the developments in the history of this book, it is unclear who purchased the plates, or what happened to them in the intervening period before the appearance of the next edition, but they obviously stayed together as a unit.[6] This subsequent edition, with an undated title page, first appeared in a period within the final years of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth.[7] It was produced by the brothers Henry (1653-1721) and Corneille (1661-1728) Verdussen, now with a total of 125 plates and titled in French, Le Cabinet des plus beaux Portraits. This reflected the increasing influence of French Huguenot printers who fled France following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 which had promised religious freedom. Many books were now printed with French titles at a time that Latin was losing ground as a scholarly language. Not all of the plates were included in each edition and the order varies from copy to copy. Mauquoy-Hendrickx has identified a total of 190 plates used in various editions of Iconography. The Verdussen edition seems to have been printed in larger numbers as there are many copies still in existence today. As a result of this intensive use of the plates, the quality of the print has declined – many of the plates were retouched and the sheets are heavily inked to compensate for this extreme usage.[8]

The final collection of images printed in book form appeared in 1759, published simultaneously in Amsterdam and Leipzig, by Hans Kasper Arkstee (c. 1700-1776) and Hendrick Merkus (died c. 1785). Now titled Iconographie for the first time, it was essentially an extended edition of the Verdussen edition with added text. It was printed in two volumes, with volume one containing fifty-five images of members of the nobility and the military, and the second volume containing seventy images of artists and architects. Each image was accompanied by a biographical text (in French), for each of the individuals portrayed. Judging by the number of surviving copies – Mauquoy-Hendrickx lists sixteen copies in public libraries alone (including one in the National Library of Ireland) – this edition must have had a significant print run.[9]

Image 3: Title page of Edward Worth’s copy of Le Cabinet des plus beaux Portraits (The Hague, 1723).

In addition to these four editions, two further ‘companion’ editions were printed as supplements to the above. The first appeared in 1723, published in The Hague by Jean Swart and containing fifty additional images. A further edition appeared in 1728 at The Hague, published by Alberts and Van der Kloot. The only concrete reference we have to the cost of any of these editions is a price of fifteen florins, printed on the title page of the 1723 supplement published by Jean Swart (Image 3). However, the fact that the images were engraved by the best in the business, and printed on high quality paper, would have made them expensive publications to produce. As a result, they could only be afforded by the wealthy aristocratic and mercantile classes.[10] Print runs of the earlier editions are likely to have been small, making them even more costly and expensive products.[11]

The Gillis Hendricx edition of Iconography in the Edward Worth Library has the words ‘1725 Juillet (July) 16 kost 11-n-r’ written on a sheet of paper pasted to the back cover. To date, I have not been able to establish if this is when the book was purchased by Dr. Worth or, indeed, what the currency involved actually is. As already indicated, complete editions are rare – Mauquoy-Hendrickx references three copies and a trawl of the internet has revealed a further eight copies (excluding the Worth copy).[12] Copies come up for sale from time to time for varying amounts. What becomes clear is the enduring appeal of the name of Van Dyck as a masterful portrait painter, especially when one considers that virtually all of these images were printed after his death. Just looking at the prominence of the words Antoine (Antonio) van Dyck in the various title pages show how his name was enlisted as a powerful marketing tool to aid the sales of the books.

The Competition

If one wants to examine the economics and market for a product, it is always worthwhile to look at the competition. In a sense, Van Dyck was continuing a tradition of publishing portraits of prominent members of the aristocratic and artistic communities which dates back to at least 1568 when Giorgio Vasari produced the second edition of his The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. This fed into a demand for images of the rich and famous of the day – an early precursor of today’s ‘celebrity’ culture and the plethora of printed media that it feeds. In London, for example, the printer and bookseller, Peter Stent (c. 1613-1665) carried a stock of 400 or so printed portraits that reflected his contemporaries’ obsession with the political personalities and crises of the day.[13] Giovanni Angelo Canini’s Iconografia, printed in Rome and dating from 1669, features images of monarchs, artists and intellectuals from antiquity. Les Vies des Hommes Illustres, printed by Nicholas le Gras in Paris in 1699, features prominent individuals from French history. When looking at these books and other similar titles of the same period, and comparing them with Iconography, one is struck by the sheer brilliance of the images in the latter and how they were executed with a verve and inventiveness that appealed to print collectors and connoisseurs. Again, this reinforces the popularity of Van Dyck and why these books of images based on his portraits continued to be produced more than 100 years after his death.

Image 4: Title page of Giovanni Angelo Canini’s Iconographia (Rome, 1669) from Duke University Libraries. Available at:

Copies and Fakes

If imitation is the best form of flattery, then Iconography would prove to be fertile ground for printers and print/book sellers alike. Harms et al. refers to ‘slavish plagiarism’ where the drawing power of the name Van Dyck encouraged a number of opportunistic copies of the images, as well as a number of outright fakes, particularly of those early images that had no text printed on them.[14] What was prevalent were attempts to ‘doctor’ images to make them appear older than they actually were. As the earlier versions of the Van Dyck images were more valuable, due to their rarity, various methods were adopted to alter them. These included substituting an earlier printer’s name for a later one, adding text to images that were blank, or even just scratching out the printer’s name.[15] Thus caution must be exercised when examining the prints, particularly the single sheets, to ensure that they are genuine.

Peter Stent, the London print seller, saw the opportunity presented by the Dutch editions of Iconography, and reproduced some of the images using plates copied from the originals by local engraver, Richard Gaywood (fl. 1650-1680). To avoid charges of blatant deception, these images were often printed in reverse to the original. Initially these sheets were sold singly but such was the success of this project that Stent later produced his own cut-down version of Iconography in book form for the London market. This was a book of twelve plates with twenty-four heads, printed two to a page, one above the other, after the Van Dyck images from plates by Richard Gaywood.[16] If the full-sized version was outside the reach of all but the very wealthy, this smaller issue now put a masterwork of the seventeenth century within the reach of a much wider audience.

The Dutch Book Trade

Any attempt to determine how the copy of Iconography ended up in the Edward Worth Library has to look to the printing and book trades in the Low Countries during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries for clues. Dr. Worth attended the universities of Leiden and Utrecht from 1699 to 1701 so would have been familiar with the local Dutch book market. This coincided with the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic which flourished on the back of a booming economy built on international trade. According to Paul Hoftizer more books were printed in the Netherlands than in all other European countries put together.[17] Dutch publishers also took part in the international trade – throughout the seventeenth century they frequented the semi-annual book fairs at Frankfurt, and later Leipzig, in order to exchange their latest publications. During the last decades of the century, for instance, booksellers in Amsterdam, Leiden and Rotterdam acted on behalf of booksellers in London who specialized in the so-called ‘Latin trade’, the import of scholarly and scientific books.[18]

Image 5: Title page of Du Bois 1725 catalogue.

One feature that the Dutch trade perfected was the book auction – many Dutch private book collections were sold by auction after the death of their owner. This meant that an ever-growing quantity of second-hand books was constantly being re-cycled, to an ever-expanding global market. These auctions were publicized through the printing of comprehensive sales catalogues, giving detailed information on the size and content of the books. The Edward Worth Library has a significant collection of these catalogues, amongst them the four volumes produced for the sale of the collection of Cardinal du Bois by Jean Swart and Pierre de Hondt in The Hague in 1725. The collection totalled 17,060 volumes and the auction took place over an extended period of time from 27th August to 19th October. Although this was an exceptionally large collection, it gives an indication of the volume of books that were available. Although I couldn’t find any direct reference in any of the collection of sales catalogues to the purchase of the Icones Principum Virorum Doctorum by Dr. Worth, it can probably be assumed that it is through this medium that he became aware of the availability of the book and arranged its purchase.

It is too much of a stretch to draw a direct parallel between the seventeenth-century publications described above and the celebrity media of today, but the wealthy classes of that period – both aristocratic and mercantile – did like to keep abreast of the characters that made up the main players in the aristocratic, military and artistic worlds of the day. By expanding the gallery to include the portraits of individuals outside the confines of the Low Countries – France, England and Spain, for example – this helped to increase the pan-national appeal of the later editions of Iconography. This was at a time when Van Dyck’s fame was on the rise, particularly in France and England, and his influence on portrait painters in those countries, such as Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743) in the former and Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680) in the latter, became apparent. Certainly, the earlier editions of Iconography, printed in small numbers, would have been expensive both to produce and purchase. But possession would have reflected well on the owner, marking them out as a person of taste and sophistication, particularly in relation to the enduring celebrity status of Van Dyck as a portraitist. As Dr. Worth had studied in Holland, he would have been aware of the Dutch book market and he bought books from auctions in London and Amsterdam during the crucial period of the 1720s and early 1730s, when many collections were coming on to the market.[19] Further research is required to establish the exact route travelled by the Edward Worth Library edition of Iconography from Holland to Dublin and an analysis of similar books in the Worth collection would help to give an insight into the Library’s founder. By including a copy of Iconography in his collection, he was confirming that this was a purchase that befits a ‘man of science, a gentleman and a connoisseur’.[20]


Elizabethanne Boran, ‘The Edward Worth Library’, Reading East: Irish Sources and Resources (2012). Available at:

Elizabethanne Boran, ‘Home Page’, The Edward Worth Library (2017). Available at:

The Fitzwilliam Museum, ‘Printed portraits’, Anthony Van Dyck [online exhibition] (2009). Available at:

Alexander Globe, Peter Stent, London Printseller, circa 1642-1665: being a catalogue raisonné of his engraved prints and books with an historical and bibliographical introduction (Vancouver, 1985).

Roeland Harms, Joad Raymond and Jeroen Salman (eds.), Not Dead Things: The Dissemination of Popular Print in England and Wales, Italy, and the Low Countries, 1500-1820 (Leiden, 2013).

Arthur Mayger Hind, Van Dyck: His Original Etchings and His Iconography (Boston and New York, 1915).

Paul G. Hoftijzer, ‘The Dutch Republic, Centre of the European Book Trade in the 17th Century’, European History Online (2015). Available at:

Marie Mauquoy-Hendrickx, LIconographie d’Antoine van Dyck (Brussels, 1991).


[1] Arthur Mayger Hind, Van Dyck: His Original Etchings and His Iconography (Boston and New York, 1915), p. 17.

[2] Roeland Harms, Joad Raymond and Jeroen Salman (eds.), Not Dead Things: The Dissemination of Popular Print in England and Wales, Italy, and the Low Countries, 1500-1820 (Leiden, 2013), p. 124.

[3] Marie Mauquoy-Hendrickx, LIconographie d’Antoine van Dyck (Brussels, 1991), Vol. 1, pp. 28-29.

[4] Ibid., p. 29.

[5] Ibid., p. 36.

[6] The Fitzwilliam Museum, ‘Printed portraits’, Anthony Van Dyck [online exhibition] (2009). Available at:

[7] Mauquoy-Hendrickx, L’Iconographie, p. 41.

[8] Ibid., p. 42.

[9] Ibid., p. 47.

[10] Harms, Raymond and Salman (eds.), Not Dead Things, p. 27.

[11] Ibid., p. 19.

[12] Mauquoy-Hendrickx, L’Iconographie, p. 33.

[13] Alexander Globe, Peter Stent, London Printseller, circa 1642-1665: being a catalogue raisonné of his engraved prints and books with an historical and bibliographical introduction (Vancouver, 1985), p. 2.

[14] Harms, Raymond and Salman (eds.), Not Dead Things, p. 133; Mauquoy-Hendrickx, L’Iconographie, p. 56.

[15] Mauquoy-Hendrickx, L’Iconographie, pp. 56-63.

[16] Globe, Peter Stent, p. 92.

[17] Paul G. Hoftijzer, ‘The Dutch Republic, Centre of the European Book Trade in the 17th Century’, European History Online (2015). Available at:

[18] Ibid.

[19] Elizabethanne Boran, ‘The Edward Worth Library’, Reading East: Irish Sources and Resources (2012). Available at:

[20] Elizabethanne Boran, ‘Home Page’, The Edward Worth Library (2017). Available at:

Text: Mr. Stephen Odlum, M. Phil. in Art History, ART+IRELAND, Department of History of Art and Architecture, Trinity College, Dublin.