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15/12/2016

A new reference to the greatest group portrait ever destroyed – Van Dyck’s painting of the Brussels City Council

In 1628-9 Van Dyck was commissioned to paint a group portrait of the Brussels City Council. It contained 23 life-size portraits. This is more than appear in Rembrandt’s famous The Night Watch (1642). It was the largest painting that Van Dyck executed and achieved great fame across the Netherlands. It hung in Brussels Town Hall but was destroyed during the French bombardment of the city August 13-15th, 1695.

The ruins of the Grand Place, Brussels, after the French bombardment 1695

The ruins of the Grand Place, Brussels, after the French bombardment 1695

JVDPPP unearthed a new and rare archival reference to the painting in a Swedish archive. A Swedish nobleman, Mårten Törnhielm, visited Brussels in 1687 in the company of the architect Nicodemus Tessin. In his travel diary, he recorded visiting the Town Hall where, ‘in another room is a very large piece by Van Dyck, depicting how all the Councillors, with lifelike faces, sit in their order, all painted life-size.’ It can only be imagined how this striking painting must have looked.

Photo courtesy of Rogge Library, Strängnäs, Sweden. Translation by Dr. Anna Blennow.

Photo courtesy of Rogge Library, Strängnäs, Sweden. Translation by Dr. Anna Blennow.

Justin Davies



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