Among the selection of magnificent drawings by Northern artists featuring Dürer (6), Hans Holbein the Younger (2), Paul Bril (5), Peter Paul Rubens (2 copies, 4 retouched anon. Italian) and Anthony van Dyck (3, all retouched by Rubens), but also lesser known artists like Augustin Braun and Gottfried von Wedig, another masterpiece has been placed in a vitrine. This neat and tidy document today is studied and looked after as much as the other objects on display: the Inventaire des dessins collés et dorés – the autograph inventory of framed and gilt drawings of Everhard Jabach IV (1618-1695), drawn up in preparation of the famous sale of 101 paintings and 5442 drawings of the Italian and Northern schools to Louis XIV in 1671.
Coming from a wealthy Cologne family of merchant bankers Everhard Jabach IV was the youngest and only boy of five children. The early death of his father in 1636 left him in charge of the bank as well as a substantial house and office in Sternengasse 25-25a, the very street on which the Rubens family lived when exiled from Antwerp in the 1570s. In 1638 Jabach settled in Paris to become the first director of the French East-India Company and a key figure in Colbert’s economic policies and thus a prominent man at the French court. In 1647 he received his French naturalization papers but never gave up his status as Bürger of Cologne where he assured the completion and installation of Rubens’s Crucifixion of St. Peter, commissioned by his father for St. Peter’s church (in situ since 1642). He returned to his hometown to marry Anna Maria de Groote in 1645. His commercial activities were between Paris, London, Cologne, Amsterdam and Antwerp.
Jabach’s resources allowed him to buy and sell art with great gusto. Like his father he considered art to be a good investment. And like most art collectors at the time he preferred Italian art. When acquiring drawings he favored finished compositions that he called dessins d’ordonnance. He mounted them on ivory board and framed them with a gold border (collés et dorés). In 1649 he was the single largest buyer at the Commonwealth Sale after the execution of Charles I, acquiring about 100 paintings and over 6000 drawings. In 1655 he bought important pieces from the Arundel collection, among them four paintings by Hans Holbein the Younger, for whose art he developed a genuine passion. With these two major acquisitions his importance and prominence as collector changed profoundly. His collection now included works by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Giulio Romano, the Caracci, Bronzino, Veronese, Hans Holbein, Antonis Mor, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and Claude Lorrain, outshining most royal collections of the second half of the seventeenth century. In 1665 he received Bernini at his hôtel in Rue Saint-Mederic whom he gave a tour of his collection. Already in 1662 he sold several paintings to Louis XIV for the first time. The 1671 sale of 101 paintings and over 5500 drawings was a profitable affair for Jabach (33-34, 56-57). He continued to buy and sell and in 1695 he still owned or owned again 22 drawings by Dürer, 20 paintings by Holbein, 70 of 167 drawings by Paul Bril and 13 drawings of the approximately 80 he had had in total by Rubens and his immediate circle.
The exhibition at the Louvre was inspired by the loan from a private Belgian collection of a little known Portrait of Everhard Jabach by Anthony van Dyck (1636-37; cat. 53). Jabach is here presented as the man responsible for laying the foundation to the French royal drawings collection as well as substantially increasing it: in 1683 still half of the collection had come from Jabach. It was Jabach too, who shaped the perception of Northern artists at the French court; from his estate came, for example, ten of sixteen paintings by Van Dyck. And, last but not least, Jabach firmly established France as a home to many generations of important connoisseurs like Pierre Crozat, Pierre-Jean Mariette or the Comte de Caylus.
In his essay Blaise Ducos, curator of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings at the Louvre, uses Van Dyck’s portait as a point of reference to outline the logic of Jabach’s collection. In 1636 at the age of eighteen, Jabach went to London where he was introduced to Thomas Howard, the Earl of Arundel, as well as other members of the Whitehall circle. Deeply impressed with the paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger and Anthony van Dyck, the two artists would become most prominently represented in his collection together with Albrecht Dürer. With Van Dyck’s portrait commissioned during the visit, Jabach initiated a strategy to successfully link himself to the intellectual circle around the Earl of Arundel, Whitehall and eventually the French court. Besides having himself portrayed by Van Dyck a second time a year later (Hermitage, St. Petersburg), he commissioned in later years portraits by Peter Lely, Sebastien Bourdon and Hyacinthe Rigaud as well as a family portrait by Charles Le Brun, recently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The portrait of a wealthy influential merchant banker with high social aspirations was not an entirely new genre. A comparison is here made to the Fugger, the successful Augsburg family of merchants, mining entrepreneurs and bankers of previous generations that had acquired aristocratic rank and had its portraits painted by Albrecht Dürer and Christoph Amberger.
Jabach’s collection of Northern art was truly exceptional and no other collector held as many paintings by German artists as he. Olivia Savatier Sjöholm gives an excellent account of the collection’s status and value at the time. It is noteworthy that Jabach and his nephew Franz von Imstenraedt should, indeed, speak of a German school rather than the more common amalgamation with the Flemish school. Despite following the fashion of predominantly collecting Italian art, Jabach sold no less than 60 of 200 (31%) paintings by German, Dutch or Flemish masters to Louis XIV in 1671. These sixty paintings included a high number of landscapes – then a generally snubbed genre in Paris. Only few other collectors owned as many works by Northern artists at the time and it was no less than Cardinal Mazarin who matched this aspect of Jabach’s collection.
In his inventory of 1671 – discussed by Louis Frank and Lina Propeck – Jabach classified 309 of his 5542 drawings as by German or Flemish artists. All of them belonged to his masterpieces, mounted with a gold border, each one valued at one hundred livres. To this he added further 173 drawings from the rebut (the “rubbish” or leftovers, drawings without mount or border, but still classified as dessins l’ordonnance) in 1676, which previously had been uncategorized. This seems a comparatively small number measured against 640 (+266) drawings by Raphael and his school or 448 (+581) Venetian and Lombard drawings, but it was considerably more than anyone else had collected at this time. Jabach is here described as a semi-connoisseur. He did not mind buying drawings in bulk and rarely changed the attributions of the items he had bought. In his inventories he groups drawings into local or national schools but is not more specific than that. We have little concrete evidence of any in-depth knowledge of art on his part; his friend Charles Le Brun may have helped with his expertise. It is possible that despite his exquisite taste some of his acquisitions may have been guided more by their prospective market value or his desire to belong to certain circles than his actual liking for particular artists or pieces. Besides Rubens, Van Dyck, Paul Bril and Hans Holbein other artists who feature in the catalogue are Hans Baldung Grien, Denys Calvaert, Hans Speckaert, Friedrich Sustris, Lucas van Leyden, Jan van der Straet, Bernard van Orley and others. The excellent catalogue benefits from recent research at the Louvre by Bernadette Py on the Jabach inventory of 1695 and Lina Propeck on the collector’s mark of Antoine Coypel reattributed to Claude Delamotte (L. 478), to name just two.
It seems that Jabach’s strong sense for collecting Northern artists was motivated by his Cologne origin, his sense of heritage and tradition. That he and his nephew distinguished Flemish from German drawings indicates a good eye, but it remains difficult to say if Jabach did not simply buy “because he could.” It may well be that in owning a portrait by Holbein of Erasmus he saw himself as a similarly cosmopolitan person as the great philosopher, as suggested by Ducos, but it seems more likely that he just wanted to acquire another portrait by the German artist. It would be interesting to see how the same question would be answered in respect to his Italian collection. The methodology applied here would have to be tested in view of Jabach’s Italian art: the continuous emphasis of Jabach’s German and French nationalities in reference to his Northern drawings collection would not stand up with the Italian drawings. Be that as it may, the present reviewer keenly awaits a sequel to this beautiful exhibition, featuring Jabach’s delightful Italian art.
The Warburg Institute, London