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Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke

Anthony van Dyck(c. 1634)

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne, Australia

Addressing the viewer with a subtly melancholic air, this depiction invests the formal conventions of portrait painting with a nervous restlessness. Philip Herbert was Earl of Montgomery (from 1605) during the reign of James I, and 4th Earl of Pembroke (from 1630) under the rule of Charles I. Herbert's aplomb and authority are heightened by the contained solidity and restraint of the pose, by his position slightly above the viewer's level and by his display of the wand of office of Lord Chamberlain. The sense of magnificence is increased by the glimpse of a dramatic landscape, the rich yellow curtain, and the luxurious lace and other expensive materials of his costume. Yet these assertions of rank and power are combined with signs of intellectual reflection and temperamental sensitivity. The beautifully painted hand is alive with an unusual combination of delicacy and electric energy, reinforcing the complexity of character perceptible in the refined elegance of the face.

When Anthony van Dyck arrived in England in 1632, the court of Charles I was one of the leading cultural centres in Europe. Charles I's love of the arts and his awareness of their potential to promote a desirable self-image for the monarch gave rise to a lively atmosphere that encouraged ideals of sophisticated learning and civilized behaviour. The portrait of Philip Herbert should be seen in the context of this courtly community, and van Dyck as the artist who could capture its concerns without resorting to stiff formalities. The earl, who performed in masques conducted at the court, exudes a persuasive bearing.

Herbert wears the ribbon of the Order of the Garter, an honour highly prized as a way of enhancing the prestige of the bearer. The earl was an enlightened and lavish patron of the arts.

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  • Title: Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke
  • Creator: Anthony van Dyck
  • Date Created: (c. 1634)
  • Physical Dimensions: w830 x h1050 cm (Unframed)
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1938, © National Gallery of Victoria
  • External Link: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Provenance: Collection of Philip, 4th Earl of Pembroke (1584–1650), Wilton, Salisbury, Wiltshire; collection of Jonathan Pytts (1730–1807), Kyre Park, Tenbury Wells, Worcesterhire; collection of the Baldwyn-Childe family, Kyre Park, by 1882; then to William Lacon Childe by 1882; thence by descent to Mrs Baldwyn-Childe, Kyre Park, by 1930; Charles Edward Childe-Freeman, Kyre Park, 1930; from whom purchased, with Kyre Park estate, by George H. Heath, 1930–31; with Colgnaghi (dealer), London, 1931, 1934, 1937; from whom acquired by the Felton Bequest for the National Gallery of Victoria, 1937.
  • Biography: Born in Antwerp, van Dyck was a favoured student and assistant of Peter Paul Rubens, and worked in the Netherlands, France and Spain before his second stay in England, where he remained for the latter part of his life. In 1632 he was knighted by Charles I and described as Principal Painter in Ordinary to Their Majesties. His depiction of the Earl of Pembroke is indicative of the development of his style in England towards more intimate informality. Van Dyck had absorbed from Rubens an audacious fluency of brushwork and a sumptuous emphasis on colour, tone and surface texture. In works such as this portrait, these qualities evolved into a style of lively linear rhythms, theatrical compositional structure and keen characterization that became one of the most influential in the history of portraiture thereafter.

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