Self-portrait with a Sunflower c.1630
After Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)
“Gold chains were traditional as gifts from sovereigns to painters.”
Oil on canvas
25 x 25 inches 63.5 x 63.5 cm
The imagery of this portrait has been a matter of study and debate since the prototype (Collection of the Duke of Westminster) was executed in 1632/3. It is an exuberant piece in which the painter displays a valuable gold chain, perhaps that given to him by the King in 1632, when he was knighted and made painter to the King and Queen, and gestures to a sunflower. Whether this motif suggests the courtier's dependence in all things on the King - as the immense popularity of this image during the Civil War might suggest - or his devotion to the cause of Art - as John Evelyn certainly believed some decades later - has never satisfactorily been resolved, and it may be that both possibilities were always intended.
Gold chains were traditional as gifts from sovereigns to painters, and when Van Dyck painted himself wearing one they were also a highly-prized element of fashionable costume. The painting's function is -if incidentally- documentary as much as it is allegorical.