Van Dyck, Alessandro Scaglia and the Caroline Court: Friendship, Collecting and Diplomacy in the Early Seventeenth Century1

By Osborne, Toby | The Seventeenth Century, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Van Dyck, Alessandro Scaglia and the Caroline Court: Friendship, Collecting and Diplomacy in the Early Seventeenth Century1


Osborne, Toby, The Seventeenth Century


'Friendship', with a rich variety of meanings, pervaded early-modern social and political culture, from the levels of individual interactions to the high politics of international relations. It meant more than affection, restricted to the realms of private life among social equals. Courtiers, clients, and patrons linked friendship with obligation, alliance and favouritism in the politicised worlds of public life and the court, encompassing horizontal and vertical social relations.2 Princes too could have friends within their realms, when, as Francis Bacon (1561-1626) observed in his essay on friendship, 'they raise some persons to be as it were companions and almost equals to themselves'.3 Even at the level of international politics 'amicitia' had a political role to play in delineating mutual obligations between princes. For as the legal historian Randall Lesaffer has argued, early-modern treaties were in essence personal agreements between individuals where friendship had assumed specific legal connotations which 'amounted to the express declaration by the treaty partners not to damage each other's interests'.4

In this light, friendships between individuals and families could on one level express affection, but also much more - political affinity, dynastic affiliation, obligation, and social hierarchies, multiple identities that featured both openly and tacitly in many of Anthony van Dyck's portraits. His 'friendship portraits' marked for posterity the affection and intimacy between spouses, families and friends in conjugal, double and group portraits. While work has been conducted on gift-giving in early modern Europe stressing its functions in patron-client relations where the giver was inherently the subordinate seeking patronage, the gift of a portrait by Van Dyck could also affirm friendship and intimacy between social equals.5 This aspect of patronage was strikingly recorded in the artistic exchanges in 1635 between the Bourbon Henrietta Maria (1609-69) queen-consort of Charles I (1600-49), and her older sister, Marie-Christine (1606-63), duchess of Savoy.6 The delicate group portrait of the princes Charles and James Stuart, and princess Mary (1635), now in the Galleria Sabauda, Turin, served as a diplomatic gift from London to Turin (the return gift of Marie-Christine's children is now lost), an act of communication between blood sisters from dynastically-related courts where the group portrait as a gift, and possibly the choice of Van Dyck as artist, held special significance for both courts.7

Van Dyck's portraits could also record a further type of friendship, between the artist and sitter. His pictorial output made references to the close affinities he himself established in the course of his travels around the sovereign states of Europe. The double portrait (c. 1627) of the brothers Lucas (1591-1661) and Cornelis de Wael (1592-1667) served as a gift to thank them for providing the artist with lodgings in Genoa during his stay in the city. Similarly the portraits of the collectors and artistic brokers Nicholas Lanier (1588-1666) and François Langlois (1588-1647) recorded their friendships with Van Dyck (respectively 1628 and c. 1634-7). The three probably met first in Italy and subsequently knew each other at the Stuart and Bourbon courts in London and Paris.8 This association between the artist and sitter can also be seen in the double portrait in The Prado, Madrid, of Van Dyck himself and Endymion Porter (1587-1649), a pro-Spanish client of George Villiers (1592-1628) duke of Buckingham, and an ambassador in the service of Charles I. Porter's credentials as a patron and broker, operating on behalf of the Caroline court, were strong. He was instrumental in the acquisition of the Mantuan collection for Charles I in 1628, the greatest cultural achievement of the king's reign, and he was on close terms with Daniel Mytens I (1590-1647) and Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), both of whom worked in London. He had probably first met Van Dyck even earlier, on the artist's first trip to England in 1620, and it is thought to have been Porter who brokered Charles I's initial commission from Van Dyck, Rinaldo and Armida (1628-9). …

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