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Self portrait with sunflower

Painting, 1632, 73×60 cm

Description of the artwork «Self portrait with sunflower»

"Self-portrait with a sunflower" (ca. 1633) - one of the most memorable in the works of Anthony van Dyck. In this picture there are several interesting aspects that distinguish it from other artist’s selfies.

Stillfrom the age of 14 Van Dyke liked to portray himself looking at the audience from behind (1, 2, 3), as if surprised by their presence. With one hand, the artist points to himself, exposing the golden chain recently granted by the highest patron, the English king Charles I. The finger of the other hand rested on a large sunflower that repeats the pose of the painter. Both the man and the plant look full of life: disheveled hair and thick petals are well underlined by changeable light and surrounding unquiet atmosphere.

Art historians have long recognized that two themes are intertwined in this picture. Van Dyke presents himself as the perfect courtier, whose devotion to the monarch is likened to the natural inclination of the sunflower to follow the path of the sun. At the same time, he brings the viewer to the idea that painting is a noble art.

John Peacock, the author of Van Dyke's book, develops these themes by exploring the cultural environment in which the painting was created. In particular, he argues that the “Self-portrait” subtly connects the perception of both the real world and its transcendental — that is, inaccessible to experimental knowledge — truths. This neoplatonic idea was the central doctrine of Charles I’s court, well suited to absolutism, which endowed the monarch with infallible divine authority.

Karl I and Van Dyck were in some way similar to each other - both short, painful, but at the same time extremely ambitious. The monarch sought to concentrate in his hands the full power and unite Britain under the sign of a common religion. He was literally obsessed with getting the Flemish genius into court painters — and when he came to London in 1632, he was showered with favors. Numerous royal orders, three rooms in the palace, a considerable salary of £ 200, an estate on the Thames, and finally, a sign of the highest favor - the title of knight. Demonstrating a gold chain around his neck, Van Dyke directly boasts his nobility. A look that is moving upwards on the “Self-Portrait with a Sunflower” can mean both an advancement of the artist in the social hierarchy and a symbol of the knowledge of the divine.

Narcissism, as historians testify, was one of Van Dyck's character traits. Unlike RembrandtFor whom writing his own images was a matter of self-knowledge and practice, the court painter Charles I clearly admired himself.

However, John Peacock believes that the chain is not only a literal sign of royal mercy and disposition, but also a combination of two well-recognized motifs. This is the golden chain of Homer, illustrating the links between the kingdoms of the earth and the divine, and Plato's rings, which symbolized the energy of inspiration, embracing the cosmos. According to the researcher, such an iconography, based on the neo-Platonic idea of the Universe, built in the form of a connected hierarchy, was distributed at the Stuarts' court.

Another object on which to stay in more detail is sunflower. The way Van Dyck interprets the plant corresponds to the descriptions in the texts about herbs and medicines that appeared shortly after the importation of a flower to Europe in the 16th century. Due to the bright appearance and property, following the daylight, the sunflower was widely used on heraldic signs and emblems. The flower was quickly endowed with a human form and face, feelings and the gift of sight - especially in the interpretation of the Jesuits. They identified him with the human soul, whose love for God makes her turn to the divine radiance.

Sunflower accompanies the hero of another portrait by Van Dyck. The artist depicted this flower next to Sir Kenelm Digby — his friend, the “virtuoso” of philosophy and natural science, and also a founding member of the Royal Society. Peacock examines a variety of topics that combine these two pictures. Comparing "Self Portrait" and "Portrait of Kenelm Digby", he convincingly shows that Van Dyck was not only familiar with his modern arguments about art, beauty, knowledge and concepts of the ideal court. He was able to unwrap and convey intertwined messages in the context of his images. The painter reformulated the argument of the XVII century that the nobility of art is based on intellectual skills, emphasizing its transcendental goals. In this self-portrait, Van Dyck demonstrates the goals of art, not the means.

"Self-Portrait with a Sunflower" by Anthony van Dyck is included in the private collection of the Dukes of Westminster. Since 2016, this aristocratic house is headed by Hugh Grosvenor, 7th Duke of Westminster - the youngest billionaire in the UK (25 years old at the time of title inheritance) and godfather of Prince George of Cambridge, great-grandson of Queen Elizabeth II.

Author: Vlad Maslov
from 1450 rub
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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Portrait

Style of art: Baroque

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1632

Size: 73×60 cm

Artwork in selections: 3 selections

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