Directly upon returning to Antwerp after his journey to Italy in 1627, Anton van Dyck embarked on a set of 18 etchings in his own hand, which formed the basis for his well-known portrait series ‘Iconography’. It is very likely that he was inspired by Ottavio Leoni, one of the leading portraitists in Rome, who was working at the time on a series of portrait engravings of famous personalities. Van Dyck’s project soon evolved into an artistically ambitious business idea that could only be successfully implemented with the aid of the best engravers of the city of Antwerp. The series went on to be published by numerous publishers well after Van Dyck’s death.
The portrait prints, mostly of living, well-known politicians, generals, scholars, and artists were initially sold as loose sheets, but were subsequently also issued in bound form, in numerous editions from the middle of the seventeenth century onwards. Using the Kupferstichkabinett’s own impressive collection of Van Dyck prints, the exhibition ‘Spitting Images: Van Dyck and the Portrait Print’ seeks to illustrate the various sources of inspiration, work processes, and evolution of the ambitious and creatively challenging endeavour. The portraits are especially captivating for their mimetic quality, their variety, and masterful execution.