The exhibition is entirely focused on the artistís early work and features more than 90 paintings and drawings spanning the years between approximately 1615 when Van Dyck was fifteen, to 1621 when he left Antwerp for Italy. During these six years of his early career the intellectually restless and remarkably prolific young artist produced around 160 paintings, many of them of large scale and creative ambition, of which the Prado possesses the most important collection.
Aside from the Prado, the most important early works by the artist are now housed in the Gemšldegalerie, Dresden, and the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. Both institutions have supported this project with the loan of works (four from Dresden and two from Saint Petersburg).
Van Dyck, who was Rubensís most talented pupil, set out to define his style at the very start of his career and this awareness of creating a personal approach was a new concept at the time. His earliest compositions are slightly hesitant and experimental in the depiction of the bodies, as evident in Christís Entry into Jerusalem (Indianapolis Museum of Art), The Lamentation (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) and The drunken Silenus. They reveal Van Dyckís experimental approach and a pronounced artistic personality that actively sought out new artistic resources in order to increase the impact of the work on the viewer.
In contrast, in works such as The Crowning with Thorns (Museo del Prado) Van Dyck reflects the powerful influence of the time that he spent working for Rubens (1577-1640), which is evident in that work in the similarity of the figures to those of Rubens, although once again it reflects an overall desire to define a personal and individual style. Van Dyckís interest in textures and in rough, powerfully realistic bodies contrasts with the idealised beauty with which Rubens depicted his figures.
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