Anthony van Dyck (Flemish, 1599—1641) became one of the greatest painters of the 17th century. Born the seventh of twelve children to a wealthy silk merchant, Van Dyck’s early demonstration of artistic talents and interests earned him an apprenticeship at age 10; five years later he was painting independently. By 1621 he had his own pupils, was admitted as a free master in the Antwerp painters’ guild, and associated with the great Flemish master painter Peter Paul Rubens, eventually becoming Rubens’s chief assistant and “the best of [his] pupils.”
Following a brief first trip to England and the court of King James I, Van Dyck traveled to Italy at the urging of Rubens, where he remained for six years, sketching and studying the Late Renaissance Italian painters. Numerous commissions for portraits and religious paintings gained him an international reputation by the time he returned to Antwerp in 1627, where he produced similar works for aristocratic Flemish patrons.
His assistance to British agents searching for works to add to the growing art collection of the English King Charles I resulted in Van Dyck’s return to England in 1632. He received a knighthood, married a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and became the official court painter. Van Dyck completed dozens of paintings of the royal family and their courtiers before he succumbed to a sudden illness in 1641. The King granted him burial in Old St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, which was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666.