It was thanks to a bequest that the Heritage Fund received a remarkable work representing the Apostle Matthew, painted by the young Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641).
The young van Dyck would almost certainly have been inspired by the series of apostles painted by his master Pierre-Paul Rubens, around 1610, for the Duke of Lerma. Van Dyck, who was an apprentice in the grand master’s studio, would have seen the works being created.
The van Dyck apostles would have been painted between 1618 and 1620. Their style is similar to that of other works created during what is known as his ‘first Antwerp period’: a figure quickly sketched out in fluent brushstrokes, giving rise to a uniform pictorial surface on which one can detect only a few small brushstrokes, notably for the hair and the apostle’s mantle. The artist then added thick highlights. This impasto is clearly visible on Matthew’s hand and face, but it is even more noticeable on his white shirt and on the spear he is holding.
The King Baudouin Foundation’s Matthew the Apostle is part of what is known as the Böhler series, a reference to German art dealer Julius Böhler, who acquired the series from a private Italian collection. Böhler later sold the works to a number of different museums and private collectors. The man portrayed in the Foundation’s portrait is at one and the same time strong and contemplative and the work is the only example of van Dyck’s paintings of apostles that we have in our public collections. The importance of this work cannot, therefore, be underestimated.