(b. 1628, Bologna, d. 1719, Forli)

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife

Oil on canvas, 99 x 99 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

Joseph was the elder son of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob and of Rachel. His numerous older brothers were strictly only half-brothers, being the sons of Leah or of handmaidens. The events of his romantic life story have been depicted continuously in Christian art from the 6th century onwards. The medieval Church saw the episodes of his life as a prefiguration of the life of Christ, and it is to this that he owes his important place in Christian art.

When in Egypt as a slave, Potiphar, captain of the Pharaoh's guard, bought Joseph from the Ishmaelites and made him steward of his household (Gen. 39:7-20). Potiphar's wife 'cast her eyes over him and said, "Come and lie with me."' He refused her though she continued to press him. One day when they were alone together she clutched his robes, pleading with him to make love to her. At this, Joseph fled so precipitately that he left his cloak at her hands. When Potiphar came home she avenged her humiliation by accusing Joseph of trying to violate her, using the cloak as evidence. Joseph was promptly thrown into prison.

The present work is an outstanding example of Cignani's intense artistic expression, impressive not only for its strongly emotional content, but also for the brilliance of its formal composition. Cignani painted this subject several times in his workshop, but only the Dresden version is acknowledged to be entirely his own work.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.