This grand-scaled portrait of Everhard Jabach IV and his family, one of the most important group portraits of the seventeenth century, is a landmark of French painting."
This grand-scaled portrait of Everhard Jabach IV and his family, one of the most important group portraits of the seventeenth century, is a landmark of French painting. At the time it was commissioned, Charles Le Brun, best known for being Louis XIV's leading painter, was on the threshold of becoming the most powerful artistic presence in France.
A German-born banker and merchant, Jabach was among the most distinguished collectors of his era. Before permanently establishing himself in Paris in 1638, he directed his family's business interests in the Low Countries and England, where he commissioned a portrait of himself by van Dyck and admired the achievements of two of the greatest collectors of his time: Charles I and Thomas Howard, second earl of Arundel. Masterpieces from their collections would eventually enter his own, and through later sales by Jabach to the French crown, those works, along with many others, became prized possessions of Louis XIV and are now among the core collections of the Louvre.
This large and ambitious portrait is rare for its time because it had no state or dynastic function. Le Brun presents his subjects engaged with each other at home, in the company of their pets, and even depicts himself, brush and palette in hand, reflected in the mirror behind them. On the one hand, the artist's presence emphasizes his friendship with the sitters. However, whereas Jabach invites us to admire his wealth and directs our attention to a pile of books, drawings, ancient busts, and a celestial globe and other instruments that signal his culture and erudition, Le Brun's presence reminds us of his agency in showing us this: we are as taken by the Jabachs' status as we are in awe of the artist's skill in representing it.
One of the most remarkable things about this canvas is how Le Brun has balanced the depiction of material opulence with the arresting portrayal of the individual character and likeness of his sitters. Even the great writer and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, when seeing this painting for the first time in 1774, was at a loss for words, saying, "I find it difficult to describe my response to these impressions, so overwhelmed was I by them."
See posts about the work on Now at the Met.
Department of European Paintings