Sir Anthony van Dyck
(1599 Antwerp - 1641 Blackfriars, London)
Head Study of a Tormentor
Oil on paper, laid down on panel, 32.8 x 25 cm
T. P. Grange, London, 1966;
Minneapolis Institute of Art, The John R. Van Derlip Fund; until sold
Christie’s, New York, 10 October 1990, lot 52a, as ‘School of Sir Anthony van Dyck.’
Dr. Rothman, The Minneapolis Institute of Art Bulletin, LV, 1966, p. 59, illus. p. 70.
Art Quarterly, XXIX, nos. 3-4, 1966, p. 294.
Gazette des Beau-Arts, La Chronique des Arts, LXIX, February 1967, supplement no. 284, p. 77, illus.
Catalogue of European Paintings in the Minneapolis Museum of Arts, 1970, no. 76, illus.
Barnes, et. al., Van Dyck, A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven and London, 2004, under no. I.22, p. 39 as ‘a partial copy of the painting or a study by van Dyck.’
This powerful study of a head appears to have been used as the preparatory sketch for the figure with a raised hand, who appears on the left of van Dyck’s celebrated Christ crowned with Thorns, formerly in the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum, Berlin, and destroyed during World War II (fig. 1).
Christ crowned with Thorns belongs to a series executed by Van Dyck for an unknown religious patron. It was first recorded as belonging to the Cistercian Abbey of Ter Duinen, Bruges, in 1660. This important early masterpiece was painted during van Dyck’s first Antwerp period c. 1618-20, when he was about twenty years old and the main studio assistant and pupil of Sir Peter Paul Rubens. It clearly highlights his master’s influence, especially when we consider its relatively sombre palette, chiaroscuro, and highly naturalistic portrayal of musculature. Another version was painted at the same time, and is now in the Prado, Madrid (fig. 2). Van Dyck seems to have completed both pictures early on during his stay in Italy, since they also show the influence of Titian, and other 16th century Venetian artists.
Two other oil studies of heads associated with the lost Berlin canvas are recorded. The first on panel for the man in a headscarf kneeling before Christ (sold by Agnew’s to the Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, in 2016). The second is a sketch for the bearded man at the rear centre (Christie’s, London, 6 July 2017, lot 1).
The extraordinarily vivid treatment of this preparatory study is characteristic of van Dyck’s painting from the early period of his career. This was a period which was strongly influenced by Rubens and corresponds to other head studies on paper by this artist from the same time, including the Study of a young woman (Mary Magdalene) now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, and the Young woman resting her head on her hand, probably a Penitent Mary Magdalene, dated to c. 1617-18.1
We are grateful to Dr. Christopher Brown for confirming the attribution to van Dyck after first-hand inspection of the original.
1 See the exhibition catalogue, The Young Van Dyck, eds. A. Vergara and F. Lammertse, London, 2013, p. 116, no. 8; and included in the current exhibition Van Dyck at the Alte Pinakothek, Munich.