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Title St Rosalie Crowned with Roses by Two Angels
Collection English Heritage (Wellington Museum, Apsley House)
Artist Dyck, Anthony van (Flemish painter, 1599–1641, active in England)
Date Earliest 1624
Date Latest 1625

In April 1624, Van Dyck sailed from Genoa to Sicily at the invitation of Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, Viceroy of Sicily. In the summer of that year Palermo was swept by the plague, and on 14 July in a cave on Monte Pellegrino, above the city, fragments of a skeleton were discovered which were identified as the remains of St Rosalie. The discovery of her remains was seen as God's intervention; they were translated to Palermo Cathedral and the saint's protection was invoked by the hard-pressed population of the city. Between July 1624, and the end of the plague quarantine, in September 1625, when he left Palermo, Van Dyck painted six different compositions of St Rosalie, each represented by several extant versions. The Wellington picture, characterised by its broad, free treatment, from which its expressiveness derives, appears to be a preparatory version of a larger painting in the Menil Collection, Houston (165 x 138 cm, inv. 68–01DJ; Barnesetal. 2004, cat. II. 16).

A painter of portraits and figure subjects, van Dyck was, after Rubens, the most important artist of the seventeenth-century Flemish School. Born and trained in Antwerp, he worked with Rubens in about 1618–21 and lived in Italy 1621–27. He again left Antwerp in 1632 for London, where he became court painter to Charles I and where he remained intermittently for most of the rest of his life.

Current Accession Number WM 1651–1948
Subject figure; religion (St Rosalie; angels); landscape
Measurements 117.2 x 88.0 cm
Material oil on canvas

For Van Dyck see S.J. Barnes, N. De Poorter, O. Millar and H. Vey, Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven and London, 2004; for Van Dyck in Italy see M. Vaes, ‘Le séjour d'Antoine Van Dyck en Italie…1621–1627', Bulletin de l'Institut historique Belge à Rome, IV, 1924, pp. 163–230, esp. pp. 214ff. St Rosalie had lived as a recluse on Monte Pellegrino – where she had been guided by two angels – in the mid-twelfth century until her death in about 1160. In 1292 an altar was dedicated to her in Palermo Cathedral and there are early representations of her by Francesco Traini and Antonello da Messina (Collura 1977, figs 2, 5). Her popularity as the patron saint of Palermo dates from the Counter-Reformation.

WM 1651 may have served as a presentation modello for the Houston picture, which, as a major altarpiece commission, would have been subject to a lengthy approval process. In composition, the two are identical except for minor details: the book and the skull have been moved to the right in the Houston picture, and there is a difference in the posture of the second angel. More significantly, the saint's face has been made rounder, more youthful, and the transparent veil softening her plain garment eliminated – alterations presumably made to refine the iconography of the newly popular saint (Barnes et al. 2004 p. 160). A third version of the composition, in the Museo Nazionale, Palermo, appears to be a contemporary copy of the Houston picture (Collura 1977, pl. 14); and a half-length copy was formerly in the collection of Harry Axelson Johnson, Stockholm. Another half-length version, without the angels, attributed to Van Dyck, is in the Museo del Prado (no. 1494; 106 x 81 cm; E. du Gué Trapier, ‘The school of Madrid and van Dyck',The Burlington Magazine, Aug. 1957, p. 271, fig. 30). This is the picture which is recorded in the Alcázar and the Escorial in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Y. Bottineau, ‘Alcázar', Bulletin Hispanique, LVIII, 1956, p. 478, no. 1507).

Van Dyck's St Rosalie crowned by Angels is related to his composition of St Rosalie interceding for the City of Palermo, which also shows the saint standing on Monte Pellegrino (Fundación Luis A. Ferré, Museo de Arte, Ponce, Puerto Rico, no. 60.158; Barnes et al. 2004, cat. II. 51). The former is barely distinguishable from scenes of Mary Magdalen's life as a hermit and, indeed, the Wellington picture was at times taken to represent the Magdalen (1794 inventory).

Rights Owner Copyright English Heritage
Author C.M. Kauffmann, revised by Susan Jenkins



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