Copying in museums

I did this copy of Anthony van Dyck’s “Three Ages of Man” over ten years ago in the civic museum in Vicenza. Its been hanging in a dark corner of my apartment for all these years, but I moved it this week and can finally photograph it. I spent over three weeks there and didn’t come close to finishing, I had to paint the old man from a photograph when I got home. The museum website lists the painting as the Four Ages of Man, but I think the woman on the right represents something else.

The people at the museum were charming. After a couple of days they let me leave all my stuff out in the room rather than packing everything up at the end of the day. It was like having my own private studio in the museum. The city of Vicenza itself is beautiful, and the Baptism of Christ by Bellini in the church of Santa Corona remains of the most incredible paintings I have ever seen (the reproduction doesn’t do it justice).

I tried a different painting technique with each of the figures. The girl I did in a complete grisaille and glazed the color over when it dried. The young man I did in a ‘colored-grisaille’ (as I had been taught in school) and then glazed the colors over the figure. The child I did in one day, trying to hit the colors right away. I think the full grisaille was probably the closest to how van Dyck painted the original, though its not a technique I have ever desired to use in my own work.

My copy is the same size as the original, which is apparently illegal. I was ignorant of this at the time and luckily didn’t get caught (not that anyone could ever confuse mine for the original). One interesting thing is that while painting it, I couldn’t see the background as the painting had darkened so much. Only later when given a large-format slide by the museum could I see that the large shape over the middle figure’s head is a Greek temple. The bright lights they used to photograph it cut through the darkened varnishes better than my eye could.

The frame on mine was made to look something like the original, but years later the painting was sent to London for the van Dyck show at the Royal Academy and the art historians changed the frame for some reason. Last time I saw the painting in Italy they had kept the new frame which looks nothing like mine. The new frame is much simpler and would have saved me a ton of money.