Details — Click to read
Etching, 242 x 188 mm. Wibiral 143, New Hollstein 164, 1st state (of 2).
Rare impression of the 1st state (of 2), with the inscription Ioan Meyʃens fecit et excud., before this inscription was burnished in the second state.
Very fine impression printed on laid watermarked paper (indistinct watermark). Some soiling and stains in the corners, a small thin area in the upper left corner on the reverse.
Antony Van Dyck and Mary Ruthven were married on February 27, 1640. The portrait of his young wife, now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid (inv. 1495), was painted by van Dyck at that time. In this painting, Mary Ruthven wears a sumptuous blue satin dress and looks at the viewer while ostensibly lifting with her right hand the end of the rosary that she is wearing as a bracelet on her left arm, thus marking her devotion. Ger Luijten observes that the oak leaves on her head may indicate her moral strength but also evoke her patron saint, the Virgin Mary. He also notes that the pearl necklace around her neck may suggest that Mary Ruthven was pregnant with their daughter Justiniana, who was born in December 1641, only a few days before the painter’s death (Antoine van Dyck et l’estampe, p. 205, translated by us).
The portrait painted by Van Dyck was engraved by various artists. Schelte Adams Bolswert made an engraved version – perhaps after an intermediate sketch – for the Iconography of a hundred portraits engraved after Van Dyck’s works, published in 1645-1646 by Gillis Hendricx. This posthumous edition added twenty portraits to the edition published during Van Dyck’s lifetime by Martin van den Enden.
Ger Luijten emphasizes the technical mastery of Schelte Adams Bolswert in his engraving, especially in the way he renders the satin and the volumes of the body. While he believes that Joannes Meyssens’ etching does not possess the same qualities, he nevertheless observes that “he has, however, tried to approach the etching technique used by van Dyck, seeking in particular to reproduce his freedom of line and his stippling effects”. He notes that “this fact is rare among engravers who worked after van Dyck”. Finally, Luijten notes that “Meyssens’ etching was probably created independently of Bolswert’s” (translated by us). Meyssens’ etching is indeed closer in detail to van Dyck’s original painting: the curl of hair on Mary Ruthven’s forehead, for example, is more similar to that in van Dyck’s painting.
It should be remembered that although Van Dyck resorted to professional engravers for his Iconography (such as Paul Pontius, Lucas Vorsterman, Schelte Adams Bolswert or Pierre de Jode), he himself made original etchings. These portraits, unfinished, nervous and technically imperfect, show a great freedom in the printmaking technique and are very far from the conventional engravings executed on commission. We find some of this freshness in Meyssens’ etching.
Reference: Carl Depauw and Ger Luijten: Antoine van Dyck et l’estampe (English version: Anthony Van Dyck as a Printmaker), 1999.