Jordaens, Jacob

Antwerp 1593 - Antwerp 1687
Biography & List of works

The Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan


Medium: Oil on Canvas

Size: 185.5 x 173 cm


Probably brought to Poland, possibly by Jan III Sobieski (1629-1696), elected King of Poland 1674, in the second half of the 17th century, and given to his son Jakub Ludwik Sobieski who in 1682 had been given the palace of Podhorce in the Lvov Oblast, begun by the architect Guillaume Le Vasseur Beauplan (1635-1640) with additional designs by Andrea dell’Aqua (1637-1641). The castle and its contents were acquired in 1728  by Hetman Waclaw Rzewuski (or Rzewuscy), 1706-1779 (married to Princess Anna Lubomirska), who played a major role in 18th century Polish politics and added a third floor to the palace while building a collection of objects  connected to his great hero, Jan Sobieski. Waclaw Rzewuski was interned by the Russian in 1767 and the Jordaens first appears in an inventory of the following year, 1768. The painting was listed in an inventory of 1812 – 13, at Podhorce, which then belonged to Adam Wawrzniec Rzewuski (1760-1825); in an inventory of 1859, no. 272 as by Jordaens at the Palace of Podhorce,  then the property of Leon Rzewuski, who sold the Palace and its contents in 1865 to Prince Roman Sanguszko-Lubartowicz; in an inventory of 1887, for Prince Roman Sanguszko-Lubartowicz no. 272 as by Jordaens still at Podhorce; removed from Poland in 1939 by the heirs of the family along with other valuable objects from the palace of Podhorce and thereafter by descent.


W. Kryczynski, Zamek uw Podborcach, Zloczów 1894, p. 76 no. 172; Lionel Cust. Anthony van Dyck, An Historical Study of His Life and Works. London, 1900, p. 11 (as by Van Dyck; Count Jerzy Mycielski, Anthony Van Dyck 1599-1641, Kraków 1900, p. 35-37, as by Van Dyck; Emil Schaeffer. Van Dyck, des Meisters Gemälde. 1st ed. Stuttgart, 1909, p. 18, 496, as by Van Dyck; Oldenbourg R. Die flamische Malerei des XVII Jahrhunderts, Berlin 1918, p. 63, as by Jordaens; Count Jerzy Mycielski, S. Swierz, Pięć obrazów z galerii podboreckiej, “Sztuk Piękne” 1924 – 1925, p. 166-69; Edward Chwalewik, Zbiory polskie. Archiwa, biblioteki, gabinety, galerie, muzea i inne zbiory pamiątek przeszłości w ojczyźnie i na obczyźnie w porządku alfabetycznym według miejscowości ułożone”, Warszawa 1926-1927 vol 1, p. 118; Ludwig Burchard “Die Anfiinge des Jacob Jordaens” in Jahrbuch der preussischen KunstsammlungenXLIX, 1928, p. 213 -214; Roger A. d’Hulst “Jacob Jordaens, schets van een chronologie zijner werken onstaan vóór 1618” Gentse bijdragen tot de kunstgeschiedenis 14 (1953),1953, p. 108, 110; Leo van Puyvelde. Jordaens. Paris, 1953,p. 89;, Roger A. d’Hulst. De tekeningen van Jakob Jordaens. Brussels, 1956p. 38-39; Jan Bialostocki and Michael Walicki Europaïsche Malerei in Polnischen Sammlungen 1300-18001958, p. 25; Gerson, Ter Kuile “Jacob Jordaens,” in Art and Architecture in Belgium, 1600-1800, 1960, p. 130; Janina Michalkowa, “Jordaens w Ottawie”  Biuletyn Historii Sztuki, XXXI, no 3,1969, p. 316; Roger A. d’Hulst. Jordaens Drawings. London, 1974, vol 1, p. 117-119; Jan Ostrowski, Anton van Dyck, 1980, p. 20-22; Roger A. d’Hulst. Jacob Jordaens. Ithaca, N.Y., 1982, p. 65; Jan Ostrowski, “Przegląd literatury na temat malarzy kręgu Rubensa 1977-1983”, Folia Historiae Artium, 22: 1986, p. 170; Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678) Vol I Paintings and Tapestries, R.-A. d’Hulst, Nora de Poorter and Marc Vandenven, Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, 27 March – 27 June 1993, p. 67; Jan K.Ostrowski and Jerzy T. Petrus, Podhorce: Dzieje Wnetrz Palacowych I Galerii Obrazow, 2001, pp.52-53, A.43, illus. pl. 216.

Related works: drawings in Musée Bonnat, Bayonne, and University Library, Uppsala; Related painting (including the same figure as the Samaritan), The Holy Family with St John, His Parents and Angels, 1616, Warsaw, Castle Museum (see d’Hulst, op.cit. supra). There is a copy of this composition, of similar dimensions, made at the command of Waclaw Rzewuski by Szymon Czechowicz, circa 1762-67, that now hangs in the Lviv (formerly Lvov) Gallery of Art, Ukraine.

Sold to the Louvre Abu Dhabi,  UAE

The presence of works by Jordaens in Poland suggests that he was particularly admired by the great magnates who began forming important collections from the early seventeenth century onwards. Foremost among these was the future King of Poland, Jan Sobieski, victor of the great battle at the gates of Vienna in 1683 which finally reversed the westwards onslaught of an aggressive Ottoman Empire. The acquisition of the Jordaens by Jan Sobieski was first proposed by Mycielski and Swierz in 1924, but although this is as yet unproven the painting seems likely to have been part of the collection at Podhorce installed by Jakub Sobieski, son of the Polish king, following his acquisition on the palace in 1682. Podhorce was subsequently purchased by the great Polish hero, dramatist and poet, Waclaw Rzewuski (1706-1779), Voivoid of Poldolia and Field Hetman (equivalent of Field Marshal) of the Crown, along with its contents. As a punishment for opposing Russian ambitions he was later kidnapped and imprisoned in Russia in 1767, but was spared confiscation of his estates. Upon his release in April 1772 he was promoted to Grand Crown Hetman but gave up the post in November of that year, retiring to his estates.

Rzewuski had embarked on a major redecoration of Podhorce, rehanging the works of art, objects and furniture and forming a considerable collection of paintings as well as adding to his collection of works associated with the reign of Jan Sobieski. A significant majority of the paintings, however, were copies after the masters commissioned from a contemporary Polish painter, Simon Czechowicz (these included a copy of the Jordaens, now in the museum at Lviv, but then hung in another part of the palace while the original was placed in one of the principal rooms). The Good Samaritan was probably the most important work of art in this collection.

There appears to have been some confusion as to the identity of the artist in the latter part of the 19th century, although it had been correctly described as by Jordaens in the inventories of the palace. Dr Abraham Bredius, visiting the palace of Podhorce in 1897, identified the work as by Rubens, an opinion supported by Max de Roose in a letter to Prince Eustachy Sanguszko-Lubartowicz of the same year. By 1899, however, it was reattributed to Van Dyck and included as by him in publications by Jerzy Mycielski, R Oldenburg and Emil Schaeffer. It was finally returned correctly to Jordaens by Ludwig Burchard in 1928 and has subsequently been consistently identified as an autograph work by Jordaens dating from 1616.

Jordaens was born into a prosperous Catholic family and it is clear from his handwriting and knowledge of French as well as mythology that he received a good education. Apprenticed to Adam van Noort in 1607, Jacob Jordaens was registered as a master painter by the Guild of St. Luke in Antwerp in 1615, becoming dean of the Guild in 1621. In 1616 he married his teacher’s eldest daughter, Anna Catherina van Noort, by whom he had three children. Although Rubens proved to be the principal formative influence on his career Jordaens did not follow his example, or that of his fellow Rubens disciple, Anthony Van Dyck, in making the journey to Italy. Nonetheless through the medium of prints, copies and even originals Jordaens came to admire the work of Caravaggio as well as being familiar with Titian, Veronese and Bassano. While he was never employed in Rubens’s considerable workshop, the influence of the older master can be seen most notably from 1615-1616 onwards and into the 1620s – indeed this legacy remained a constant presence throughout Jordaens’ oeuvre.

The story of the Good Samaritan is told in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10 verses 25-37. A Jewish traveller on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, a notoriously dangerous road, is beaten and robbed and left injured by the roadside; both a priest and then a Levite pass by but ignore the wounded man who is finally given succor by a Samaritan. The Samaritans were despised by religious Jews and this parable provided Jesus with a good example of how the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself might be put into practice. Jordaenshas followed the biblical iconography carefully; on the road disappearing into the distance that can be seen winding through the landscape visible below the horse’s belly are two figures whom one may presume to be the priest and Levite. Jesus tells how the Samaritan “was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal…”.

The Samaritan in this painting is evidently a wealthy merchant, as is indicated by his rich damask robe, the presence of a groom helping the young man onto his master’s splendid white horse and the black servant holding its bridle. Some changes made by the artist suggest that he might have initially determined a more modest status for the Samaritan; as he was first portrayed with bare feet or wearing sandals (the pentimento, still slightly visible, is unclear) but has now been given fine leather boots. Other changes such as the placement of the Samaritan’s right hand suggest the artist was rethinking the composition while painting, while two surviving drawings may be all that remains of a more extensive number of preparatory works. The two figures at right are perhaps humble witnesses to the generosity of the wealthy merchant; this may have been intended to emphasize that even a wealthy merchant might stoop to help a poor traveller.

Jordaens would have understood the depth of hatred felt between Samaritans and Jews, the former having desecrated the Temple with bones, and perhaps drawn a parallel here with the religious struggles that had divided the Netherlands. Could the rich merchant and Jewish victim have represented for Jordaens the opposing religious communities of his day? Jordaens himself abandoned the Catholic faith of his parents and converted to Protestantism later in life. He would certainly have been familiar with the opposing interpretations of this story as it was understood by contemporary Catholic theologians who, in addition to its fundamental message of love, saw a parallel with the Fall of Man and the Samaritan in the role of Christ himself. This explanation was rejected completely by John Calvin who preferred the more straightforward message that this story simply restated the obligation of all men towards others. In Jordaens time, however, the behaviour of the Jewish priest and Levite might as easily have been followed by those of opposing Christian faiths.