(b. 1783, Düsseldorf, d. 1867, Berlin)

Joseph Interpreting Pharaoh's Dream

Fresco with tempera, 236 x 290 cm
Nationalgalerie, Berlin

This fresco was originally part of a cycle of paintings in the former reception room of the Casa Bartholdy in Rome. They were painted in 1815-17. At the end of the 19th century the frescoes were taken down and moved to Berlin. Jacob's Lament is by Schadow, while Philipp Veit (1793-1877) painted the lunette above it, The Fat Years, and the large-scale Joseph and Potiphar's Wife. Cornelius painted the Joseph Interpreting Pharaoh's Dream - also crowned by a lunette, The Lean Years by Overbeck - and The Recognition of Joseph by his Brothers. The artists regarded the cycle as their main work and they all made watercolour versions on a small scale, which were shown in the Berlin Academy exhibition in the autumn of 1818, framed with architectural divisions.

In this painting the Pharaoh sits listening attentively, deep in thought, to the prophecies of the future that Joseph is counting for him on his fingers, like an arithmetical exercise. In the listeners Cornelius has shown the whole range of reactions - from the scribe's factual record, through keen attention and skepticism to disbelief in the figure disappearing into the dark. But the painter's idea to show the dream in the round panels on the sides is interesting. They are like a projection by a laterna magica.

It should be pointed out that colour did not play an important part in these frescoes. Similarly, particular attention has not been paid to the composition as a whole; the individual figures are conceived as part of a cumulative show. The narrative coexistence determines the picture - as in Nazarene art generally.

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