Student ID: 24570745
MCD1280 Art Theory A
January 9, 2013
Formal Analysis on Anthony van Dyck’s Rachel de Ruvigny, Countess of Southampton
There are actually two versions of Anthony van Dyck’s painting of the countess of Southampton; Anthony van Dyck, Rachel de Ruvigny, Countess of Southampton, ca. 1640, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (see fig. 1) and Anthony van Dyck, Rachel de Ruvigny, Countess of Southampton as ‘Fortune’, ca. 1638, Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (see fig.2). There have been discussions on which between the two is the primary version. Ursula Hoff argued that the painting located in Melbourne is the primary version basing on three aspects: (a) It was the only one to be chosen for engraving; (b) while the other versions were in the possession of the Earl’s daughters, 1246/3 was inherited by the Earl’s third wife, presumably with the contents of Southampton House; (c) an alteration in the Althorp picture shows convincingly that the painter started this version with the design of 1246/3 in mind. Current scholars and art critics are still arguing the primacy between these two paintings. Our discussion on the other hand, relies specifically on the Melbourne Collezione privata/Private coversion.
Anthony van Dyck painted the portrait of Rachel de Ruvigny, Countess of Southampton in the 17th century, around 1640. The painting takes the size up to 222.4 centimetres in height and 131.6 centimetres in width. This is a type of portraiture painting that was done with oil on canvas. This painting also belongs to a particular type of school which appears to be Baroque. Portraiture in this school is done in accordance to verisimilitude, which is the semblance of reality. By briefly observing through the picture plane, this painting has a build up of clouds as the foreground that helps determine where the subject stands. In the foreground, you can also see the human skull which lies just under Rachel de Ruvigny’s foot. The middle ground contains the main subject matter which is Rachel de Ruvigny herself and a giant sphere where her left arm lies on top of. For the background, Anthony van Dyck has also painted more clouds where the sun beams behind the main subject matter. The whole setting of this painting creates the illusion that Rachel de Ruvigny is floating on the clouds in the sky. The composition of this painting however is asymmetrical. Even though the main subject is centred in the middle of the picture plane, the large sphere that makes it asymmetrical. Where the balance may seem to be weighing to the right, the skull at the bottom left of the painting works as a complementary to the sphere and has created balance. In this painting, the main focal point is Rachel de Ruvigny as it is in a form of portraiture. To establish that she becomes the focal point, the colours used to paint her are lighter and more vivid than her surroundings. The other elements in this painting are painted in muted colours that would not disrupt the viewers’ eyes to the main focal point. Moving on to the lighting in this painting, it contributes to achieving the sense of realism and three-dimensional space. The light source is shining from the upper right side (see fig. 3) and reflects mainly to Rachel de Ruvigny’s face and down to her gown and the sphere. Chiaroscuro has also been used as a technique in this painting that represents the light and shadow to develop a three-dimensional effect. In this painting, it can be specifically shown in the sphere that makes it look fragile and shaped as a whole object that has volume (see fig. 4). The shadows also go into the folds of the fabric of her dress. This technique helps in indicating what is forward and located closest to the viewers and what is located further and away as a three-dimensional effect (see fig. 5). Anthony van Dyck had used aerial...