John Mcewen com­ments on The painter Martin Ry­ck­aert

Country Life Every Week - - My Favourite Painting -

AS Court painter to Charles I, van Dyck was ‘treated in a way which no other painter in Eng­land has ever equalled’ (Michael Levey, Paint­ing at Court). A con­tem­po­rary wrote on his death:

‘Nor was his life less per­fect than his art…

Most other men, set next to him in view,

Ap­pear’d more shad­ows than the men he drew.’ It’s easy to for­get the first half of his ca­reer was al­ready prodi­gious, as this por­trait, painted shortly be­fore his fi­nal move to Eng­land, tes­ti­fies.

Van Dyck’s grand­fa­ther, an An­twerp silk mer­chant, had been a painter. His grand­son was ap­pren­ticed at 10 to Hen­drick van Balen, dean of An­twerp’s Guild of St Luke, and, by 17, had his own stu­dio and as­sis­tants. He was en­rolled as a mas­ter in the guild at 19. The same year, Rubens, grand­est painter of the age, de­scribed him as ‘the best of my pupils’— ‘col­lab­o­ra­tor’ might be more ac­cu­rate.

In 1620, James I granted him an an­nual pen­sion of £100. From 1621 to 1627, he was in Italy, where he was un­pop­u­lar among artists for be­hav­ing with ‘the pomp of Zeuxis’. That he had the right to such self-esteem is demon­strated by this por­trait of his close, ail­ing friend and fel­low An­twerp painter, Martin Ry­ck­aert (1587–1631).

Ry­ck­aert, ‘the painter with one arm’, came from a fam­ily of artists. He’s thought to have been ap­pren­ticed to Rubens’s teacher, To­bias Ver­haecht. He also vis­ited Italy and is known for small moun­tain­ous Ar­ca­dian land­scapes in an Ital­ianate style. Van Dyck, with northern re­al­ism, doesn’t hide his dis­abil­ity, but hon­ours him with mag­nif­i­cence.

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