1st Edition

The Look of Van Dyck
The Self-Portrait with a Sunflower and the Vision of the Painter

ISBN 9781138251335
Published September 8, 2016 by Routledge
324 Pages

USD $59.95

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Book Description

Based on a close study of Van Dyck's Self-portrait with a Sunflower, this book examines the picture's context in the symbolic discourses of the period and in the artist's oeuvre. The portrait is interpreted as a programmatic statement, made in the ambience of the Caroline court after Van Dyck's appointment as 'Principal Painter', of his view of the art of painting. This statement, formulated in appropriately visual terms, characterizes painting as a way of looking and seeing, a mode of vision. In making such a claim, the artist steps aside from the familiar debate about whether painting was a manual or an intellectual discipline, and moves beyond any idea of it as simply a means of representing the external world: the painter's definitive faculty of vision can reach further than those realities which present themselves to the eye. John Peacock analyses the motif of looking - the ways in which figures regard or disregard each other - throughout Van Dyck's work, and the images of the sunflower and the gold chain in this particular portrait, to reveal what is essentially an idealist conception of pictorial art. He contradicts previous opinions that the artist was pedestrian in his thinking, by showing him to be familiar with a range of ideas current in contemporary Europe about painting and the role of the painter.

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; Self-imaging, Pictura, and vision; Looking and seeing; Representing the sunflower in word and image; The sunflower becomes a symbol; The golden chain; The Portrait of Sir Kenelm Digby with a sunflower; The figure of the painter; Conclusion; Appendix: Kenelm Digby, heliotropism, and the powder of sympathy; Notes; Index.

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John Peacock is Reader in English at the University of Southampton, UK.


’... a series of extraordinarily richly allusive chapters... The erudition is extraordinary... there is real insight to be found throughout the text... When Peacock scrutinises the Van Dyck self-portrait he is constantly stimulating and provocative... No one has mapped the image as closely as Peacock in his text and it will stand as the definitive account of van Dyck's Self-Portrait with Sunflower...’ The Art Book

’Peacock is an engaging and skillful guide... The Look of van Dyck alters and enriches an understanding of the work at its center. Countering a trend in academia for books with ever broader sweep, Peacock demonstrates the complex forms of thought that can be discerned in a sustained study of a single work of art.’ caa.reviews