Art beat

24th September 1999 at 01:00
King Charles I was 5ft 4in tall and his queen, Henrietta Maria, had buck teeth. How delighted they must have been with Van Dyck's regal portraits of them. The royal couple may be encountered in full splendour, along with many other leaders of early 17th century society, in Van Dyck:1599-1641 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Born in Antwerp in what is now Belgium, the son of a prosperous silk merchant, Anthony Van Dyck was a prodigy: at 10 he was apprenticed to a local painter and at 17 he had his own studio. In 1617 he had become assistant to Rubens, and came to London for the first time in 1620.

He was already being paid a salary of pound;100 per annum by King James I by the time he was 21. But it is the later portraits for which he is best remembered, especially perhaps "Charles I in three positions", intended as an aid for the sculptor Bernini. Despite their apparent certainty, his subjects lived in turbulent times - the king was beheaded eight years after his artist's death - and this is sadly if grandly expressed in the dual portrait of Lord Digby and Lord Russell. Digby supported the king in the Civil War; Russell, his brother-in-law, was a Parliamentarian and took part in the seige of Sherborne Castle, home of his sister and her husband.

Van Dyck was not simply a flatterer. He had the ability to capture a moment, to sum up a character by catching an expression in the eye while not detracting from the sitter's importance. And, a small man himself, he was notably sympathetic to the young as in the portrait of "The Balbi Children", for instance, formal in their uncomfortable clothes, but candid and confident. In 1641 Princess Mary, aged nine, was married to the 15-year-old William of Orange. Van Dyck's portrait of the children, especially the diminutive Mary, stiff in silver court dress, movingly conveys his sympathy for them. His own baby daughter was christened on December 9 that year, the day he died.

A programme of talks, lectures and study days will support the exhibition. Teachers can acquire an introductory pack and details of education events by phoning 0171 300 8000 Children in Southwark have the chance to work with professional musicians this term, culminating in the performance of a new work at Southwark Cathedral on October 9. The Lost Puzzle of Gondwana will involve 150 primary school pupils playing percussion and electronic music, notated in such a way that an ability to read music is not essential, and in using their voices in conventional and unconventional ways. The children's author Malorie Blackman has written a spoken text, an adventure story in which six children from across the world are charged with reassembling a magic puzzle to save the children of the future. Six leading composers including David Fanshawe, expert on world music, Adrian Lee, veteran of storytelling productions at the Young Vic, and the Indian composer Priti Paintal, contribute the music. The project has been organised by Robert Turrell and the Soloists Ensemble. For tickets, tel: 0171 403 7400.

The work of another popular children's writer, Jacqueline Wilson, takes to the stage at the Polka Theatre for Children in Wimbledon, south London. The Lottie Project has an 11-year-old heroine who thinks history is boring until she encounters Lottie, a Victorian nursery maid. Jacqueline Wilson says that she wanted to make the Victorians real to the many children who study the period. Until November 13. Tickets: 0181 543 4888.

Heather Neill

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