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The Influence of Van Dyck’s Iconography on Artists

Image 1: Nathaniel Hone the Elder, The Conjuror. Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin:
Photo © National Gallery of Ireland

From book covers to billboards, from TV screens to our smart phones, we are at every turn bombarded with images. It is hard for us then to imagine a time when images were scarce or appreciate the impact that a painting or a quality engraving might have had on an artist. With this in mind we might consider the plight of Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823). As a young artist the talented but isolated Scot had few examples of great painting to learn from. ‘There were at the time no exhibitions and no public collections of pictures.’[1] Instead he had to rely upon those prints after the old masters and quite probably the mezzotints of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). He would later meet Reynolds in London on his way to Europe and it is quite possible that he worked with him for a brief period.[2] ‘Study, therefore, the great works of the great masters, for ever. Study nearly as you can, in the order, in the manner, and on the principles, on which they studied.’[3] That was Reynolds’s advice to the students of the Royal Academy in 1774. He, like Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) and many of his contemporaries made copies after the Old Masters in a bid to assimilate something of the style, manner and colouring of their works.[4] Reynolds was also a keen collector and amassed a considerable number of paintings by, and prints after, the Old Masters.[5] These works informed much of what he produced and he borrowed heavily from their designs. He owned a number of Van Dyck’s works and it is to him, I believe, that Reynolds was most indebted. Van Dyck is very rarely mentioned in his Discourses and in his book A Journey to Flanders and Holland the example of Rubens is favoured over that of his pupil so one would be forgiven for questioning the assertion just made.[6] However what Reynolds pontificated upon did not necessarily manifest itself in his painting practice. One of his commonplace books betrays what he actually thought, for in it is the succinct statement; “Van Dyck’s example to be follow’d.”[7]

Image 2: Anthony van Dyck and an unknown engraver, Portret van Paulus Pontius. Etching and engraving, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam:

Image 3: Anthony van Dyck, Portrait of the Engraver Paulus Pontius. Oil on canvas, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem:

In the main Reynolds relied more on prints than on paintings. This reliance was the subject of a scathing attack by Irishman Nathaniel Hone the Elder (1718-1784) in his painting The Conjuror (1774) in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin (Image 1). Hone, who was a rival of Reynolds, saw his use of prints not as inspiration, but as pure plagiarism. Clearly Hone was seeking to publicly expose or at least embarrass the Academy’s first President. However, it would seem that Reynolds saw no need to hide the fact that such prints were the genus of many of his works.[8] One of the prints which appears from the Conjuror’s flames is an engraving of Paulus Pontius after Van Dyck (Image 2) based on a painting by Van Dyck in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (Image 3). Reynolds’ painting of David Steuart Erskine (1742-1829), David Steuart Erskine, as Lord Cardross (1764) in the South African National Gallery, Cape Town, is an almost exact translation of that engraving.[9] Not only did Reynolds not conceal the origin of the pose, he actually showed Lord Cardross the Van Dyck engraving and informed him of his intention to use it, with Lord Cardross sitting only ‘for the mask of the head’.[10] Reynolds was so fond of the composition that he used it on at least two other occasions; his portraits of Charles Fitzroy, later 1st Baron of Southampton (1737-1797), c. 1760, in the Royal Collection, Windsor Castle (Image 4) and William, Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765), 1764, in the Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace (Image 5). The foundation of the Paulus Pontius engraving is an etching by Van Dyck himself, but curiously it did not find its way into Iconography, which included a different portrait instead engraved by Pontius himself.

Image 4: Sir Joshua Reynolds, Charles Fitzroy, later 1st Baron Southampton (1737-97).
Oil on canvas, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II:

Image 5: Sir Joshua Reynolds, William, Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765). Oil on canvas, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II:

Contained within the notebooks Reynolds used for A Journey to Flanders and Holland are numerous references to Iconography. He referred to it as ‘Vandyck’s book of Portraits’ and ‘his book of heads of eminent men’ and each time he recognised a portrait that he has seen in Iconography, he invariably acknowledged the fact.[11] Reynolds’s familiarity with the collection of engravings after Van Dyck is also evidenced by the number of portraits from its pages that directly influenced his works.

Reynolds painted thousands of portraits during his career and on each occasion would have felt the need to design a pose which would both animate and ennoble the sitter. With the huge demand for his services as a portrait painter he was placed under enormous pressure to come up with novel designs. That pressure is probably why, not unlike Van Dyck, we find the same poses repeated time and time again. A collection such as Iconography with its hundred half-length portraits and its vast array of gestures would have proved invaluable to him.

Image 6: Sir Joshua Reynolds, Self-portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A. Oil on canvas, Royal Academy of Arts, London:

Image 7: Adam de Coster (1586-1643). Fig. 68 in book.

Reynolds’s self-portrait of c. 1780 in the Royal Academy of Arts, London (Image 6) is arguably the most famous of those portraits influenced by the poses in Iconography. It is derived from Van Dyck’s engraved portrait of Adam de Coster (Image 7).[12] Here he has depicted himself in his Doctoral robes from Oxford with a scroll in one hand, behind which sits the Daniele da Volterra plaster bust of Michelangelo. The robes themselves are an expression of his intellectualism. Nowhere is there an indication of him being a painter. Only once, in an early self-portrait (c. 1747-1749) in the National Portrait Gallery, London, painted just before he embarked on the Grand Tour did he paint himself bearing all the trappings of his chosen profession.[13] What is remarkable about the many depictions of artists in Iconography is that, with the exception of one, none are shown with the attributes of their craft. Reynolds was concerned with the elevation of the artist’s status from mere craftsman to the level of an intellectual and this was something he no doubt recognised in Van Dyck. It is doubtful that Reynolds’s hopeful vision of the artist as a member of upper echelons of society was inspired directly by Van Dyck or his Iconography but it is certain that in it, he recognised a depiction of the artist which was in sympathy with his own.

Image 8: Sir Joshua Reynolds, Self-portrait. Oil on canvas, National Trust Collections:

Image 9: Simon Vouet (1590-1649). Fig. 44 in book.

An earlier self-portrait (1775-1780) in the National Trust Collections at Knole, Kent (Image 8), also owes its design to an engraving from Iconography, that of Simon Vouet (Image 9). Again both images depict artists but again both eschew all symbols of craft. They are shown as noble men of words. Reynolds’s Charles Vernon (c. 1760) in the Ponce Museum of Art (Museo de Arte de Ponce), Puerto Rico, is also borrowed from a print from Iconography; the engraving of Albert de Ligne (1600-1674), Prince of Barbançon and Arenberg (Image 10).[14] There can be no doubt about the origin of the pose. Reynolds has made some minor alterations but has copied the armour verbatim. This is an example of Reynolds using Iconography as a basic catalogue of poses. When confronted with a military subject he no doubt looked to those depictions of heroic military men contained in Iconography.

Image 10: Albert de Ligne (1600-1674), Prince of Barbançon and Arenberg. Fig. 12 in book.

The portrait of Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond, 1758, in the Goodwood Collection at Goodwood House, West Sussex is most likely derived from Van Dyck’s portrait of Cesare Alessandro Scaglia (1592-1641), Abbé of Staffarda and Mandanici, Portrait of the Abbé Scaglia, in the National Gallery, London.[15] The portrait of Lennox bears a striking resemblance to the full length oil painting of Abbé Scaglia by Van Dyck.[16] However Reynolds painted the Lennox portrait in 1758 long before he saw the full length portrait on his trip to the Low Countries in 1781. Reynolds remarks upon seeing it in ‘full length’ and says ‘I have seen a print of this picture.’ It has been noted that the Lennox might also relate to Van Dyck’s portrait of Ottaviana Canevari in the Frick Collection, New York, but I think it less likely.[17] As we can see from Reynolds’ translations of Van Dyck’s Paulus Pontius, they tend to be very close to the original and in Reynolds’ Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond the sitter’s slight diagonal lean and the gesture of his weight bearing arm are far closer to the Abbé Scaglia than to the Ottaviana Canevari.

Image 11: Sir Thomas Lawrence, John, Count Capo d’Istria (1776-1831). Oil on canvas, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II:

Image 12: Anthony van Dyck, The painter Martin Ryckaert. Oil on panel, Museo del Prado, Madrid: Photo © Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) succeeded Benjamin West (1738-1820) as President of the Royal Academy in 1820. He was seen in many ways as the successor to Reynolds and some even suggested that he was superior in draughtsmanship to Van Dyck himself.[18] He was by his own admission more influenced by Rubens than Van Dyck, however when the need arose he would, like Reynolds, borrow from the designs of Van Dyck. His portrait John, Count Capo d’Istria (1776-1831), 1818-1819, in the Royal Collection, Windsor Castle (Image 11) is unmistakably taken from Van Dyck’s The painter Martin Ryckaert in the Prado Museum, Madrid (Image 12) which was engraved for the Iconography.[19] The portrait of Ryckaert was sold and sent to Madrid in 1651 and has remained there to this day.[20] Although Lawrence travelled to the continent he never visited Spain and therefore never saw the original work. While we can assume that he was familiar with the engraving from Iconography, we cannot discount the possibility that he was also inspired by one of the five known copies which were made of the painting.[21] While faithfully recording his sitter’s physiognomy and dress, Lawrence has contrived to adopt as much of Van Dyck’s composition as he can. Both are lit from the side, although Lawrence has reversed the direction of the light in order to place the hands in shadow. Lawrence has also draped his sitter in a fur-lined coat creating a diagonal across the figure. The great impact of the Ryckaert is due to the manner of its engagement with the viewer. This man does not turn away in a bid to conceal his defect of his arm, instead he addresses the viewer in a frontal pose, looking out at them directly. Lawrence was no doubt attracted to the dignity and power which Van Dyck succeeded in communicating and the Englishman obviously sought, by imitating the design, to imbue his work with those same qualities. On the occasion that an artist borrowed from the work of an old master, Reynolds advised that ‘he should enter into a competition with his original, and endeavour to improve what he is appropriating to his own work’.[22] It is doubtful however that Reynolds would have deemed Lawrence’s translation of the Ryckaert engraving to have met his criterion. The John, Count Capo d’Istria (1776-1831) has little of the force of the Van Dyck. Indeed it serves only to demonstrate the sophistication of Van Dyck and how even Lawrence, one of the most accomplished painters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, could not match the elusive psychology of his works.

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) declared that John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was the ‘Van Dyck of our age’.[23] Sargent in his address to the Royal Academy during the celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of Sir Joshua Reynolds credited Van Dyck with the creation of a more intimate and relaxed style of portraiture.[24] Van Dyck animated his figures with gestures which made them appear less formal and more engaging, but it must be said that the lack of formality was in large part due to the fortuitous change in fashion in the early part of the seventeenth century. This change from a large stiff ruff to a less formal type of lace collar allowed Van Dyck greater scope for design and the creation of sympathetic rhythms in and around the head. We find, in many portraits of the eighteenth century, sitters dressed in what became known as the “Van Dyck habit”. Such examples of Van Dyck costume appear in the portraits of Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787), Anton Mengs (1728-1779) and Reynolds to name but a few. The most famous example is probably that of Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy in the Huntington Art Collections, San Marino, California.[25] The custom of this ‘fancy dress’ had long gone out of fashion by the time Sargent was painting, but in his portraits of Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess d’Abernon (1914) in the Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama and Winifred, Duchess of Portland (1902) in a private collection we still see echoes of Van Dyck dress.[26] There are numerous instances of Sargent borrowing from Van Dyck, and of those that appear in Iconography it is, yet again, the portrait The painter Martin Ryckaert which we see being employed. Sargent used its design for the portrait Henry Lee Higginson (1834-1919), 1903, in the Harvard University Portrait Collection, Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[27] It is not a literal interpretation as we see in Lawrence but as his biographers, Ormond and Kilmurray, point out; ‘Sargent was not concerned so much with imitating the old masters as with allowing their spirit and atmosphere to breathe in the work’.[28] There are other influences at work in Sargent’s painting, namely Velázquez (1599-1660), with echoes of his Aesop in the Prado Museum, Madrid, in the gesture of Higginson’s head and Rembrandt (1606-1669) in the manner of the painting’s lighting.[29] While admitting those influences, they are secondary to the overwhelming influence of Van Dyck. Sargent travelled to Madrid in 1879 and made copies of various works by Velázquez at the Prado. Whilst there he would have likely seen the Ryckaert painting. We cannot say whether or not Sargent was using the Ryckaert print from Iconography as an aide-memoire when painting Higginson in Boston some twenty-four years later but the likelihood is that he was not. It is at this point that we should consider what must have been, at the turn of the century, the dwindling influence of Iconography.

Not for any fault of the designs contained therein but because of the emergence of other technologies of reproduction. The process of photogravure was perfected towards the end of the nineteenth century which meant that works of art, which painters had hitherto limited access, could now be photographed and printed in superior detail with a rich variety of tones. In 1900 Max Rooses published a collection of Fifty Masterpieces of Anthony Van Dyck in Photogravure. Such productions rendered line engraved prints effectively obsolete. While Iconography was always valuable and always seen as an objet d’art, its function as a pedagogical tool for students or as a source of inspiration to portrait painters had, by the late nineteenth century, become redundant. Photogravure would eventually be overtaken by photographic reproductions of full colour. One might have presumed that the coming of the internet would have heralded the definitive end of Iconography’s influence on artists but in fact it may represent its very best chance of a revival. The very purpose of Iconography was to disseminate examples of his work. By publishing and promoting Iconography using online resources, giving unfettered access to its folios, we might find a new generation of artists adopting Van Dyck’s timeless designs yet again.


Susan J. Barnes, Nora De Poorter, Oliver Millar, and Horst Vey, Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings (New Haven and London, 2004).

Nicholas Beer, Sight-size Portraiture (Ramsbury, 2011).

Christopher Brown, Van Dyck (Oxford, 1982).

Christopher Brown and Hans Vlieghe (eds.), Van Dyck 1599-1641 (London, 1999).

James L. Caw, Raeburn (London and New York, 1909).

Lionel Cust, Van Dyck (London, 1906).

Lorne Campbell, Renaissance Portraits: European Portrait Painting in the 14th, 15th, and 16th Centuries (New Haven and London, 1990).

Norman Davies, Europe: A History (Oxford, 1996).

Carl Depauw and Ger Luijten (eds.), Anthony Van Dyck as a Printmaker (Antwerp, 1999).

Ann Diels, The Shadow of Rubens: Print Publishing in 17th-century Antwerp; Prints by the History Painters Abraham Van Diepenbeeck, Cornelis Schut and Erasmus Quellinus II (Turnhout, 2009).

Mark Hallett, Reynolds: Portraiture in Action (New Haven and London, 2014).

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

Karen Hearn (ed.), Van Dyck and Britain (London, 2009).

Alex Kidson, George Romney: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 3 vols. (New Haven and London, 2015), Vol. III.

Michael Levey, Sir Thomas Lawrence (New Haven and London, 2005).

Frederick Peter Lock, ‘Four New Letters by Sir Joshua Reynolds’, The Burlington Magazine, 14 (1224) (March, 2005), pp. 182-184.

David Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2 vols. (New Haven and London, 2000).

Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: The Later Portraits; The Complete Paintings: Vol. III (New Haven and London, 2003).

Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: Figures and Landscapes, 1874-1882; The Complete Paintings: Vol. IV (New Haven and London, 2006).

Harry Mount (ed.) Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Journey to Flanders and Holland (Cambridge, 1996).

Carter Ratcliff, John Singer Sargent (Oxford, 1982).

Carrie Rebora Barratt and Ellen G. Miles, Gilbert Stuart (New York, New Haven and London, 2004).

Sir Joshua Reynolds, The Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Knight, compiled by Edmond Malone (Edinburgh, 1867).

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Discourses on Art, edited by Robert R. Wark, 3rd edn. (New Haven and London, 1997).

Max Rooses, Fifty Masterpieces of Anthony Van Dyck in photogravure, translated by Fanny Knowles (London and Philadelphia, 1900).

Helmut von Erffa and Allen Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West (New Haven and London, 1986).

Ellis Waterhouse, Reynolds (New York, 1973).

D. E. Williams, The Life and Correspondence of Sir Thomas Lawrence, 2 vols. (London, 1831).


[1] James L. Caw, Raeburn (London and New York, 1909), p. 36.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Sir Joshua Reynolds, Discourses on Art, edited by Robert R. Wark, 3rd edn. (New Haven and London, 1997), p. 113.

[4] Ibid., p. 253.

[5] Sir Joshua Reynolds, The Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Knight, compiled by Edmond Malone (Edinburgh, 1867), p. xxii.

[6] Harry Mount (ed.) Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Journey to Flanders and Holland (Cambridge, 1996), p. xlv.

[7] Mark Hallett, Reynolds: Portraiture in Action (New Haven and London, 2014), p. 36.

[8] Ibid., p. 149. Hallett suggests that Reynolds invited such associations.

[9] Anna Tietze, ‘The Culture of the Countryside: Sir Abe Bailey and his Collection’, in Sir Abe Bailey Bequest: A Reappraisal (Cape Town, 2001). Available at:

[10] David Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings (New Haven and London, 2000), p. 182.

[11] Mount, Sir Joshua Reynolds, pp. 70 & 21.

[12] Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, p. 51, no. 21.

[13] National Portrait Gallery, London, ‘NPG 41; Sir Joshua Reynolds – Portrait – National Portrait Gallery’. Available at:

[14] Hallett, Reynolds, pp. 148-149.

[15] National Gallery, London, ‘Anthony van Dyck | Portrait of Abbé Scaglia | NG6575 | National Gallery, London’. Available at:

[16] Wikimedia Commons, ‘File:Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond.jpg – Wikimedia Commons’. Available at:,_3rd_Duke_of_Richmond.jpg

[17] Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, p. 304, no. 1113; The Frick Collection, New York, ‘Ottaviano Canevari – Works –’. Available at:

[18] D. E. Williams, The Life and Correspondence of Sir Thomas Lawrence (London, 1831), p. 369.

[19] Michael Levey, Sir Thomas Lawrence (New Haven and London, 2005), pp. 278 & 218.

[20] Susan J. Barnes, Nora De Poorter, Oliver Millar, and Horst Vey, Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings (New Haven and London, 2004), p. 346.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Reynolds, Discourses on Art, p. 107.

[23] Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: The Later Portraits; The Complete Paintings: Vol. III (New Haven and London, 2003), p. 64.

[24] Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: Figures and Landscapes, 1874-1882; The Complete Paintings: Vol. IV (New Haven and London, 2006), p. 201.

[25] The Huntington Art Collections, San Marino, California, ‘Blue Boy’. Available at:

[26] Ormond and Kilmurray, Sargent Vol. III, p. 3; Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama, ‘Birmingham Museum of Art | » Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess d’Abernon’. Available at:; Wikimedia Commons, ‘File:Winifred Duchess of Portland John Singer Sargent 1902.jpeg – Wikimedia Commons’. Available at:

[27] Ormond and Kilmurray, Sargent Vol. III, p. 14; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts, ‘From the Harvard Art Museums’ collections Henry Lee Higginson (1834-1919)’. Available at:

[28] Ormond and Kilmurray, Sargent Vol. III, p. 14.

[29] Ibid., p. 13; Prado Museum, Madrid, ‘Aesop – The Collection – Museo Nacional del Prado’. Available at:

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