Thomas Howard the 2nd Earl of Arundel (1585-1646) was an English aristocrat and a courtier of Kings James I and Charles I.
Arundel is an interesting case. He is the first serious and systematic art collector in England. His activity allowed British royalty to realise that they could compete with foreign collectors, especially French, who were until then dominating the art market.
Arundel’s connoisseurship skills further shaped the aesthetic ideal that every good aristocrat-collector would since uphold. He loved Old-Master paintings and his collection included anything from Raphael to Titian and Holbein to Durer.
Additionally, he was a great patron of artists. In this blog, we will look at three artists who painted Arundel’s portrait; Van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens, and Daniel Mytens.
Van Dyck depicted Arundel in three-quarter length. His sits on a red chair with a tapestry curtain falling behind him. On the right, there is a landscape.
Van Dyck is clearly showing his patron as a person of power. Arundel is looking calmly and directly at the viewer. In his right hand, he is holding the gold medallion of Saint George (Order of the Garter). This was an emblem possessed by twenty-four knights forming the most noble and eminent circle around the king.
On his left hand, Arundel is holding a folded letter he probably just read or wrote. There is no indication as to what it is.
Peter Paul Rubens
Rubens’s work is a bit more interesting.
Rubens portrays Arundel in armour. In his chest is again visible the Order of the Garter. On a table next to Arundel lies his helmet. In his right hand, closer to the viewer, he is holding a gold baton, a symbol of his role as Earl Marshal of England. This post was a great honour for Arundel, as it made him responsible for the preservation of the traditions and honour of the English nobility.
Again, there is a red tapestry curtain behind Arundel but instead of a landscape, Rubens has chosen an interior arch-like space. Maybe this is a reference to Roman history and his patron’s interest in ancient art.
Rubens’s Arundel is a warrior wearing shiny armour. There is a calm energy which is reflected in both the reddish of his face and his posture. Rubens has given a certain ceremonial aspect to the painting and successfully conveyed an aristocratic ideal.
Mytens’s painting is by far my favourite of the three. Mytens did not simply provide a portrait of his patron but rather an image of an aristocrat connoisseur.
There are three elements in the painting that set it apart from the previous two.
First are the details with which Mytens has painted Arundel himself. The hair and clothing of the noble have received extreme attention. However what this work has in detail and realism, it lacks in vividness. Rubens’s and Van Dyck’s paintings had movement and expressionistic energy.
Second, the care with which the floral patterns of the floor are rendered. The geometry used here is not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional; it serves to enhance the perspective which creates the illusion of depth. Additionally, the difference in colour between the carpet on the front and the stone floor on the back, makes the contrast between the two rooms stronger.
Third, my favourite element is the idea of depicting Arundel inviting us, the viewers, to step into his sculpture gallery. This invitation is that makes the painting immersive. Furthermore it illuminates another aspect of Arundel’s personality, his passion for classical sculpture. Besides, he was the first great collector of classical marbles in the whole of Britain.
Mytens has placed a lot of attention to this second room. There are architectural elements visible and different sculptures in various positions. The room end in a balcony from which we can see a landscape. This landscape is the third and furthest space of the painting.