Culture: Van Dyck's Naturalism Applied to Iconography; Terry Grimley Reviews an Exhibition Focusing on Van Dyck's Religious Painting

The Birmingham Post (England), November 4, 2002 | Go to article overview

Culture: Van Dyck's Naturalism Applied to Iconography; Terry Grimley Reviews an Exhibition Focusing on Van Dyck's Religious Painting


Byline: Terry Grimley

In Britain we tend to see van Dyck as the precursor of our golden age of aristocratic portraiture, while a rare watercolour in the Barber Institute's collection also unexpectedly reveals him as a pioneer of English landscape.

However, the Barber's new exhibition examines an aspect of van Dyck's art which he was obliged to abandon on moving to Britain to become court painter to Charles I - religious painting.

In the latest in the series of exhibitions putting masterpieces from the Barber collection under the microscope, it is the turn of van Dyck's painting of the captive Christ before his crucifixion, Ecce Homo. The title ( 'Behold the man') comes from Pontius Pilate's words in presenting Christ to the crowd.

The painting is in effect a naturalistic three-quarter length portrait, with just one other figure, a Negro soldier, leering in the shadows to the right as he places a purple robe around Christ's shoulders.

Ecce Homo was painted in Genoa about 1625-6, probably for van Dyck's regular Genoese patrons the Balbi family.

In the now well-established tradition of these Barber exhibitions, it is shown in the context of one key comparative work and a group of others which shed light on it in various ways.

The most direct comparison is with van Dyck's The Mocking of Christ, painted about 1628-30 and now on loan from the Princeton University Art Museum, USA.

Two other celebrity guests are van Dyck's Christ with the Cross of 1619-20, on loan from the Galleria di Palazzo Rosso, Genoa, and never previously seen outside Italy, and Titian's Ecce Homo of about 1560, from the national gallery of Ireland, which is believed to have been a significant influence on van Dyck.

A notable 'absent friend' is The Man of Sorrows, painted by van Dyck in 1622-23, which bears a close relationship to the Barber painting but is apparently in too fragile a condition to make the short journey from its present home at the Courtauld Gallery, London. …

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