The first focus is Van Dyck’s Apostles paintings. Before he found international fame as a portraitist, the young Van Dyck painted highly regarded religious paintings in Antwerp. These included individual heads of Christ and the Twelve Apostles, popular subjects in counter-reformation Antwerp during the Twelve Years truce (1609-1621), and of a size, around 64 by 49 cm (known as a Salvator), that made them easy to display. The paintings are powerful life-size portraits of Van Dyck’s models and demonstrate his true genius as a portrait painter.

There is a John the Evangelist in the Szépmüvézeti Múzeum, Budapest. It survived both the Second World War (it was hidden in a salt mine) and the 1956 uprising. Painted in Antwerp, it was in the noble Brignole-Sale collection in Genoa, Italy in the 18th Century along with 11 other Apostles and a Christ. These 12 Apostles were not the 12 disciples exactly. Judas Iscariot was omitted for obvious reasons – replaced by Matthias – and James the Lesser made way for Saint Paul.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, 'John the Evangelist', oil on oak panel, 64.5 x 50 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, inv. no. 6377

Assistant of Sir Anthony Van Dyck, retouched by the Master, 'Christ', oil on oak panel, 64 x 50 cm, Carthusian monastery of Pleterje on loan to Galerija Božidar Jakac, Slovenia, photographed during its examination in September 2016.

These were all sold by the Princess Cellamare in Naples in 1914 to the Munich based art dealer, Julius Böhler. He thought that they had been painted by Rubens. The set, known as the “Böhler Series” to art historians, is now spread around the world in public and private collections. Some further partial series have survived. There are five Apostles (Bartholomew, Matthias, Paul, Peter and Simon) in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden – the “Dresden Series”. There are five Apostles (Bartholomew, James the Great, Matthew, Matthias and Simon) known as the “Althorp Series”. They were owned by the Spencer family since the early 18th century and hung in Althorp House, the childhood home of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, until they were sold by her father Earl Spencer in 1984 and dispersed. One Earl hung them in his dressing room. A later Earl moved them to the Chapel.

The JVDPPP team has recently examined five Apostles in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Besançon which have so far eluded the Van Dyck art historical literature and ten little known panels (Christ and nine Apostles) in the Galerija Božidar Jakac in Slovenia. These were brought from a monastery in France when the Carthusian monks were expelled in 1904 and housed in Pleterje monastery until 1977.

In addition, there is a Christ and ten Apostles in the Galerie Aschaffenburg, Bavaria. Recent research indicates there may have been yet another series in Schloss Woyanow near Potsdam in the nineteenth century, which was dispersed by the family on the German and Dutch art markets in the 1920’s.

Not all of these Apostles are painted only by Van Dyck himself. He had assistants who were involved in the production of some of them to a greater or lesser degree and who also made copies.

JVDPPP is studying the Apostles paintings to establish whether there are patterns between the different series: for example, whether they are painted on panels made from the same tree; whether a single panel maker made all the panels for a particular series; whether the Guild of Saint Luke brand marks (which passed the panel for painting) are from the same years. These details may also assist in assessing whether some individual panels that are in private and public collections actually belong to a particular series, or whether some sets are only four or five rather than 12 Apostles.

The hands and castle of the Antwerp brand of the Guild of Saint Luke, made by one branding iron, and the panel maker's punch mark of Guilliam Aertsen, on the reverse of 'Philip' in a private collection in Germany.

In addition, provenance and archival research may reveal new clues and shed light on their early histories. For example, JVDPPP has recently discovered that five Van Dyck Apostles were bought on the Friday market in Antwerp in 1692 by the Dean of the painter’s Guild.

JVDPPP is searching worldwide for Apostles paintings related to Van Dyck and his assistants to study. Auction house records from the past 300 years show that there are many Apostles lurking in unknown private collections. If you have one of these paintings, please contact us in confidence and we would be delighted to include it in the project.

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