Van Dyck’s Emperor Charles V (c.1623) and Titian’s too

Titian's portraits of Emperor Charles V are the source of Van Dyck's a century later. Titian knew Charles and presumably left us with an accurate record of his likeness (left). Yet as shown in a separate entry, the Emperor looks so like Titian's own self-portraits (right) that it cannot possibly be a good likeness. Nevertheless Titian's depiction was, even by Van Dyck's day, the iconic image of the emperor.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Titian, Emperor Charles V (detail)

Right: Titian, Engraving after lost self-portrait (detail)

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When Van Dyck, inspired by Titian's equestrian portrait of Charles, painted something similar, he created a Baroque version with a prancing horse. Yet the face, even though it retains the lantern jaw of the Hapsburgs, is different. Charles is younger and markedly different. Given Van Dyck's unfamiliarity with Charles' true likeness, why would he change what he looked like? 

If we compare Van Dyck's portrayal to a self-portrait done a few years earlier, we see major similarities even though the overall likeness is different.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Van Dyck, Equestrian Portrait of Emperor Charles V (c.1623)

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The deep-set eyes, the beginning of the eyebrow on the left, an identical one on the other side, the same line of the nose and the protruding lower lip. All these features are alike. Van Dyck, at twenty-four years of age, already knew that the Emperor was half-"Titian" and, in painting himself as Emperor Van Dyck, announced his own arrival. By the time he died at 41, he was an acknowledged Emperor of Art.

Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Van Dyck's Emperor Charles V (c.1623)

Right: Detail, inverted, of Van Dyck's Self-portrait (c.1620)

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Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 10 Dec 2010. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.