The Look of Van Dyck: The Self-Portrait with a Sunflower and the Vision of the Painter, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Look of Van Dyck

The Self-Portrait with a Sunflower and the Vision of the Painter, 1st Edition

By John Peacock


324 pages

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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.


’… 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.’

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.

About the Author

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

About the Series

Histories of Vision

Histories of Vision
Art history is not only an historical discipline, it is also the visual study of works of art. There is no naturally given, self-evident and transparent link between the object, its perception, its representation and its functions. Images are cultural constructions with their own poetics and histories, but vision as well has its histories. The aim of this series is to reconstruct these histories. It is devoted to the study of works of art considered as ways of seeing, viewing practices, and the various codifications of visual perception connected with the arts and artistic theories through the ages. The series not only covers painting and sculpture, but also architecture. Its scope is not limited to Western art, but includes in particular the ways in which non-Western art has been perceived in Western art history.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / European
ART / Individual Artists / General