A copy of an Anthony van Dyck portrait of Isabella Clara Eugenia, which has hung for years in the home of an art historian, may be the work of the Flemish master. According to a report in Guardian, Christopher Wright, an Old Masters specialist known for discovering overlooked treasures in public and private collections, bought the painting for £ 65 (about $ 88) from a London dealer in 1970.
“I bought it as a copy, as an art historian,” he told the British outlet. “I did not notice it, in a strange way.” Now he plans to exhibit the work in a public institution. It will be on loan permanently to the Cannon Hall Museum in the village of Cawthorne, Barnsley, which houses a famous collection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings.
The painting, which depicts the Spanish infant and the regency of the Spanish Netherlands, caught the attention of one of Wright’s visitors, Colin Harrison, a senior curator of European art at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. After a close inspection, Harrison suggested that there was evidence of van Dyck’s trademarks, particularly his demanding rendering of hands.
The work is believed to have been made between 1628 and 1632, a period when van Dyck worked as the prominent portraitist of the Spanish and English aristocracy. In 1632, van Dyck moved to London, where King Charles I appointed him the court’s resident painter and knighted him. His influence as a portrait artist in Europe was enormous, and copies of his work grew. As a result, the debate over the attribution of these works continues today.
In each copy of the portrait of Isabella Clara Eugenia, she appears in the habit of a nun. The pious attire and gloomy, muted background convey her period of mourning after the death of her husband, Archduke Albert VII of Austria in 1621. She led the region until her death in 1633, a period considered the golden age of the Spanish Netherlands.
Wright brought the work to the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, where it was examined and restored. Courtauld’s report, written by Kendall Francis and Timothy McCall, said several such infant portraits were created by van Dyck and his studio, often making it “very challenging” to determine the lead author for each version. They conclude: “The skillful skill makes us propose it for the time being [it] can be attributed to Van Dyck’s workshop and that it was completed during his lifetime and under his supervision. ”