In response to dynastic concerns of Genoese patricians, Anthony van Dyck began to portray individual children while in Italy. Painted in 1623, the likenesses of Filippo and Maddalena Cattaneo are among the most endearing of Van Dyck's portraits, in the way they capture the radiant innocence of childhood. As the youngsters look out with wide open eyes and gentle smiles, they captivate the viewer with the disarming directness of their expressions. Nevertheless, Filippo and Maddalena, depicted as the grown-ups they will become, are remarkably serious, as though already conscious of their future adult responsibilities.
Filippo, his hair parted in the middle, stands with one arm akimbo as would any young nobleman posing for a formal portrait. His elegant wardrobe consists of a jerkin, breeches, a cape embroidered with gold threads, a flat lace collar, and long yellow stockings. The inscription on the wall at the left reveals that Filippo is four years, seven months old. Despite his charming innocence, the boy—his father's heir—assumes a posture of authority and engages us with his frank gaze. His left arm is cocked on his hip, while the other grasps the iron chain that restrains a mastiff puppy, an attribute of constancy and faithfulness. The puppy, not interested in posing, looks wistfully to his left, presumably to the portrait of Filippo's sister Maddalena, which must have hung on that side.
Maddalena, whose golden tresses are similarly parted in the middle, wears a white woolen dress with large puffy sleeves. The front part of the dress is covered by a fine linen apron trimmed with lace. Standing more frontally than her brother, Maddalena clasps an apple, a gesture symbolic of both chastity and fertility. Although Van Dyck situated both children on a wide marble step before a dimly lit architectural form, he softened the starkness of Maddalena's setting by placing her before a large red pillow decorated with gold tassels.
A document of 1692 confirms that the two children were the offspring of Marchese (marquess) Giacomo Cattaneo and his wife, Marchesa Elena Grimaldi Cattaneo, whose full length portrait Van Dyck also executed in 1623 (National Gallery of Art, 1942.9.92). It is probable that Van Dyck first portrayed the Marchesa, after which his satisfied sitter and patron asked him to paint her children as well. In the Cattaneo palace in Genoa, the children's pictures flanked the portrait of their mother.
center left: Ao 1623 AET. 18
Giacomo Cattaneo [born 1593], Genoa, father of the sitter; by inheritance to his sons, Filippo Cattaneo [1619-1684] and Gio. Giacomo Cattaneo [1628-1712], Genoa; by inheritance 1712 to their great-nephew, Nicolò Cattaneo [1676-1746], Genoa; by inheritance to Giambatista Cattaneo, Genoa, by 1780; Nicola Cattaneo, Genoa, by 1827; Cattaneo della Volta Collection, until 1906; sold to Antonio Monti, Ferrara, buying with or more likely for (Trotti et Cie., Paris); on joint account December 1906 with (P. & D. Colnaghi, London); on three-way joint account February 1907 with (M. Knoedler and Co., New York); sold 1908 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park; gift 1942 to NGA.
- Exhibition of Portraits by Van Dyck from the Collections of Mr. P.A.B. Widener and Mr. H.C. Frick, M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1909, no. 3.
- Anthony van Dyck, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1990-1991, no. 35, color repro.
- Van Dyck 159-1641, Koninklijke Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1999, no. 34, repro.
- The Changing Face of Childhood: British Children's Portraits and their Influence in Europe, Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie, Frankfurt; Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 2007, no. 1, repro.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis, and Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Pictures in the Collection of P.A.B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: Early German, Dutch & Flemish Schools. Philadelphia, 1913: unpaginated, repro.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 124, repro.
- Works of Art from the Widener Collection. Foreword by David Finley and John Walker. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 7.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 73, repro.
- King, Marian. Portfolio Number 3. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1951: no. 4, color repro.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. Treasures from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1962: 82, color repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 310, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 47.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:274, color repro.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 39, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 120, repro.
- King, Marian. Adventures in Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1978: 46-47, pl. 24.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 263, no. 333, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 146, repro.
- Jaffe, Michael. "On Some Portraits Painted by Van Dyck in Italy, Mainly in Genoa." Studies in the History of Art 46 (1994): 141-142.
- Barnes, Susan J. Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings. New Haven, 2004: II.37
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2005: 47-52, color repro.