JVDPPP is focusing on the paintings done on wood panel supports by Jacques Jordaens and Sir Anthony Van Dyck. The wood found so far has been oak and the paintings vary in size from one plank (sketches, studies and portraits for engravers) to several for larger portrait, religious and mythological paintings. Oil sketches on paper were also adhered to panel in some cases and the project is determining whether this might have been done in the lifetime of the artist, for studio use, or after.

Wood supports, especially those made by panel makers, were more expensive than canvas. Like copper, they held the colour and finish better than canvas. The availability of oak was limited by the blockade of the Scheldt river. To date, the project has established that Van Dyck painted religious subjects and portraits on oak panel in his first and second Antwerp periods (up to 1621 and 1627-32) but not in Italy (1621-7). So far, only grisaille (black and white) studies have been found for his English period (1632-41). Jordaens appears to have painted religious and mythological subjects on panel but predominantly in the earlier parts of his career, up to the 1630’s. He lived until 1678.

At the Museo Civico, Vicenza, with the Curator, Dr. Chiara Signorini, and Frances Hargreaves, with Jordaens 'Adoration of the Shepherds', newly rediscovered by JVDPPP

Portrait of Jan Antonius van Ravesteyn, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

The Iconography

As well as examining the scope of the artists’ paintings on panel and their place in their oeuvres, inevitably also leading to exciting discoveries, JVDPPP is investigating two of the most notoriously difficult and unresolved areas of Van Dyck’s oeuvre: the oil sketches executed for the series of 100 portrait engravings known as his Iconography and the series of Apostles paintings he did while young.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, before there were museums and most of his paintings remained in private collections, excepting churches, a series of widely issued portrait engravings ensured Van Dyck’s posthumous and enduring fame. The circumstances of the genesis of this series, known as the Iconography after the 1645 publication by Gillis Hendrix of 100 engravings titled Icones Principum Virorum Doctorum Pictorum Chalcographorum Statuariorum Nec Non Amatorum Pictoriae Artis Ab Antonio Van Dyck Ad Vivum Expressae is shrouded in mystery.

We are already identifying that some of the Iconography related panels were definitely painted after Van Dyck’s death in 1641.  For example, the portrait of the Dutch portraitist Jan van Ravesteyn in Budapest was painted on a panel made from an oak tree which was cut down after 1660. The most recent article on the Iconography panels, by the late Horst Vey in Van Dyck. A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings (2004), considers that Van Dyck’s original model for the engraver Paulus Pontius is the small panel in the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch. It was purchased by his forebear Ralph Montagu at the posthumous sale of the collection of the painter Sir Peter Lely in 1682. The largest group of autograph panels is in the Duke of Buccleuch’s collection. They are also the most copied.

We have already discovered that there are more grisaille panels in existence than listed in the art historical literature and that there were more groups of portraits in 17th, 18th and 19th century collections than previously thought. Already we are identifying new insights which we are looking forward to publishing as the project progresses and reaches its conclusion.

Apostles paintings

Another 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.

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.

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

'Christ', 64.5 x 49.5 cm, Božidar Jakac Art Museum, Kostanjevica na Krki, Slovenia © Boris Gaberščik (Photo Documentation of the Božidar Jakac Art Museum)

The JVDPPP team examined five Apostles in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Besançon which had 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. 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.

In addition, provenance and archival research will reveal new clues and shed light on their early histories. For example, Alexis Merle du Bourg has recently discovered that there was a set of copies of Van Dyck’s Apostles in Paris in the 1630s.

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.

The panel maker’s mark of Michiel Vriendt found on the reverse of Van Dyck’s oil sketch (oil on panel, two planks, 49.5 x 43 cm, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, inv. no. 3014) for the large Crucifixion altarpiece hanging in Saint Michielskerk, Ghent.