VELÁZQUEZ, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y
(b. 1599, Sevilla, d. 1660, Madrid)

Joseph's Bloody Coat Brought to Jacob

Oil on canvas, 223 x 250 cm
Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

The court appointment of Velázquez gave him few opportunities for religious painting, and only occasionally did he execute subject pictures, except during his Italian journeys. He was little influenced by other artists, though he profited from the Titians in the Spanish Royal Collection, and the visit of Rubens in 1628, which was his first contact with a great living painter, who was also a court painter. Whether or not it was Rubens who inspired him to visit Italy, it was due to Rubens's influence that he obtained permission to go. He left in August 1629, visited Genoa, Venice, Rome and Naples (where he met Ribera) and returned to Madrid in 1631. The Joseph's Bloody Coat Brought to Jacob shows his preoccupation with the male nude.

Inspired by his study of Titian, but never lapsing into mere imitation, Velázquez has softened his line in this painting, which was completed in Rome in the year 1630. These influences are clearly illustrated by the detail of the little dog in the foreground of the picture, a feature often found in Tintoretto.

The composition of this picture portrays the dramatic climax of the Biblical story, when the garments of Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, are dipped in the blood of a goat and shown to his old father Jacob, to make him believe that his favourite son is dead. The physical reactions of the participants in this grim story are very forcefully depicted. The setting is a large hall with its floor tiled in a chessboard pattern, a frequent element in the works of both Titian and Tintoretto. In the background, there is a view of a beautifully painted landscape.

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