MURILLO, Bartolomé Esteban
(b. 1617, Sevilla, d. 1682, Sevilla)

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife

Oil on canvas, 197 x 254 cm
Staatliche Museen, Kassel

The subject of this painting, taken from the Old Testament was very popular in seventeenth-century painting. Sold into slavery in Egypt, Joseph served in the house of Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's guard. Potiphar's wife made eyes at him, but he resisted her attempts at seduction. On one occasion, when she tried to entice him to bed, Joseph escaped and she was left with only his coat. Disappointed by yet another rejection, she told her husband that Joseph had made advances to her, whereupon the angry Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison.

Murillo's depiction is reminiscent of a scene in the theatre, showing the dramatic climax of the story; both figures are as if floodlit before the dark background. With arms outstretched, Joseph flees from the half-naked woman on the bed, who only succeeds in getting hold of his yellow cloak. In its division between of light and shade, this large picture betrays a preoccupation, typical of Murillo's early work, with the painting of Caravaggio and his circle, much of which was to be seen in Seville until the mid-seventeenth century.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 5 minutes):
Étienne Nicolas Méhul: Joseph, aria