Nick travels with the Walpole-Wilsons to a ball at the London home of the Huntercombes. “Hanging at the far end of the ballroom was a Van Dyck––the only picture of any interest the Huntercombes kept in London––representing Prince Rupert conversing with a herald, the latter being, I believe, the personage from whom the surviving branch of the family was directly descended.” (BM 58)
Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) was the Flemish protégé of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), to whom he was apprenticed as a young painter in Antwerp, and who recommended the promising Van Dyck to Charles I of England, a discerning patron of the arts. Six years in Italy afforded Van Dyck the exposure to Veronese and Titian that fueled his unique synthesis of draughtsmanship, color and Baroque composition. In 1632 Charles I lured Van Dyck to London and retained him as court painter, in which role he enjoyed immense success as a portraitist and painter of religious and allegorical scenes. Van Dyck’s elegant and flattering portraits are often credited with forming the foundation of the great age of British portraiture of the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The Prince Rupert portrayed in the Huntercombe’s Van Dyck is Prince Rupert, Count Palatinate of the Rhine (1619-1682), the nephew of Charles I, who also made Rupert the first Duke of Cumberland. There is a Van Dyck portrait of Rupert in the National Gallery in London, but we can find no painting of Rupert conversing with a herald. Powell’s apparent invention here suggests the eagerness of the Huntercombs and other old families, not otherwise in possession of distinguished art, to display for company the distinguished antiquity of their lineage.
Reproduced here is Van Dyck’s double portrait of Rupert (on the right) with his brother Charles, with whom he is most decidedly not conversing. This painting exemplifies many of Van Dyck’s hallmark portrait characteristics: extreme, almost witty, elegance in the pose of the faces and hands; exquisite attention to the textures and colors of the costumes, interior architecture churned with a Baroque sense of movement in the draperies and shadows (as contrasted with the stasis and solidity of High Renaissance interiors), and a view to a brooding, proto-Romantic landscape.