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Joseph the Egyptian

Joseph’s story

Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons, for he was the son of his old age. But Joseph was not well loved by his brothers. Joseph brought to his father bad reports about his brothers. Furthermore, he had strange dreams about himself and his brothers. He had a dream when he was seventeen years old in which he saw himself and his brothers binding shears in the fields. He saw how the shears of his brothers bowed to his own shear. In another dream he saw the sun, the moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. His brothers understood well the dreams, and they came to hate Joseph. They could not say a civil word to him.

One day, when Joseph’s brothers went to pasture Jacob’s flock at Shechem, Jacob sent Joseph out to them to hear how they were doing. Joseph found his brothers at Dothan. The brothers saw him coming from a distance and they discussed a plot to kill him. Reuben pleaded not to murder Joseph themselves. So when Joseph arrived, they only caught hold of him and threw him in a well. The well was empty; there was no water in it. Then the brothers sat down to eat. Looking up, they saw a group of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead with camels loaded with goods they were taking to Egypt. Judah proposed to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites. Some Midianite merchants were passing and they pulled Joseph out of the well. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites and these men took Joseph to Egypt.

Reuben had proposed to throw Joseph in a well because he intended to save Joseph and restore him to his father. But when Reuben came now to the well, Joseph was gone. Reuben tore his clothes in distress, wondering what he was going to do. They took Joseph’s tunic, a decorative tunic that Jacob had given him, slaughtered a goat and they dripped the tunic in the blood. They brought then the tunic to Jacob. When Jacob saw the blooded tunic he cried out that a wild animal had devoured Joseph. Jacob mourned his son for many days.

Meanwhile, the Midianites had sold Joseph to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials and commander of the guard. Potiphar was very pleased with Joseph for Yahweh was with Joseph so that he was successful in everything he undertook. Potiphar made Joseph his attendant and put him in charge of his household, entrusting him with all his possessions G38 .

Joseph and the Wife of Potiphar

Lionello Spada (1576-1622). Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille. 1615/1620.

Joseph was well built and handsome. Potiphar’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and wanted Joseph to sleep with her. But Joseph refused. Although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not agree to sleep with her.

One day Potiphar’s wife even caught hold of him by his tunic and again enticed him to sleep with her. But Joseph left the tunic in her hands and fled.

Potiphar’s wife then ran out screaming to her servants that Joseph had burst in on her. She said she had screamed and Joseph had left his tunic beside her and ran out of the house. When she told the same story to her husband, Potiphar had Joseph arrested and committed to the goal where Pharaoh’s prisoners were kept G38 .

Many painters produced fine works on the theme of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. Here could be painted a sensuous scene and one that was not so common, for contrary to the mythological Venus who seduced men into action merely by looking alluringly, and contrary to so many pure women that were seduced by men, Potiphar’s wife had actively pursued a virtuous male. Traditional roles were inverted in this story.
Scenes in which women seduced men made one remind of prostitutes, of women of light morality, of fatal and alluring vixens that devoured men. The pictures would be licentious scenes, certainly to be condemned by good manners and the clergy. But when such a scene had really happened in the Bible, one could frown but hardly object to its representation. Moreover, such pictures could then be commissioned safely by cardinals who were official leaders of the Church community, and who had to guarantee the moral example of the clergy, but who were also wise men. These cardinals were silently tolerable of certain worldly morals, as they were always reticent of drawing religion into unbearable extremes of chastity. They of course also sometimes had their own mistresses, which they flaunted more or less openly, and they also without doubt liked to share the piquant of a pious but sensual picture with an educated and respected lady.

Lionello Spada (1576-1622) was a Bolognese artist. He knew the great tradition of the Carracci family and their academy. Spada’s Maecenas was the Cardinal Alessandro d’Este of Modena. The Spada picture we present was made for this cardinal, whom Spada had met with in Rome F4 .
Spada delivered an elegant picture, not entirely in the dignifined Bolognese style, for Caravaggio’s vision of the art also had entered Roman fashions. The Carraccis of Bologna had installed a very classicist view of the visual arts. Lionello Spada also painted in that style and showed frugally just a few figures, here only Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, which was in line with what the Carraccis taught. The picture certainly conveys a moral message and was intended for a devote public. But Spada understood well what the cardinal wanted: a picture to adorn a Maecenas’ refined collection, a picture that could ravish attention, and not one that was so austere as to cool off rapidly the interest of a higher-class audience gathered in the cardinal’s halls. Still, Spada had to produce a painting for a cardinal of the church. So he showed an image that was all soft desire, a picture of longing and sweet seduction, as of a soul longing for heavenly paradise. Well, … more or less.

Therefore, there is no hard sexual urgency in Potiphar’s wife in this picture. She does not lie challenging in the nude on her bed, attracting Joseph. There is no tough battle against the seduction in Joseph. Spada only dared to show a naked leg in Potiphar’s wife, and a bare shoulder. But for those bare parts, Potiphar’s wife remains completely dressed. She grasps Joseph, but the expression on her face is one of imploring Joseph's pity and sympathy. She is begging him to hear her out, more than to come to her. The way she clings to Joseph is not an act of a sensual woman in the heath of passion, but the grasping of a human being desiring merely love and tenderness. Therefore there is no nudity. And even if Joseph loses his cloak, he will escape the room far from naked.

Joseph is an angel in Spada's picture. He does not really seem to try to get away. He just passed by and does not heed much attention. He passes by and will soon leave, and holds the hand of the woman more than he refuses it. But he is indeed an angel, a boy with angelic looks. He is too beautiful and too young, too preoccupied with other things but the earthly pleasures to understand fully what the woman wants. This angel has no wings, but Joseph's brown cloak floats in the wind like wings.

The artist made a very intelligent, elegant, wise picture. Lionello Spada provided a meaning to the scene that suited a cardinal’s collection. He gave an interpretation of the theme that was surprising and respectable, so that even the most fervent Catholic critic could object to nothing, and he provided thus a new view of the theme.

Spada as a painter was an excellent technician. His painting is full of movement, for which he used the slant lines of Caravaggio's new way of painting. Spada had rapidly absorbed the innovations of this great master and he applied the contrasts between dark and light intelligently, with discernment, in his picture. He used the effects that Caravaggio had taught, but remained faithful to the clear message of classicism of his first Carracci teachers. Spada used Caravaggio’s warm colours. He built his picture merely in blue and brown, even if that were dark blue and dark brown hues in Joseph and almost white and golden in Potiphar’s wife. Spada worked diligently at the folds of the robes of Joseph and the woman, at their shadows in a light that seems to glow from the lower left. This technique allowed the artist to create the volumes. Spada was as skilful a painter as the best of his century.

But the major effect that will stay with the viewer is the elegantly flowing movement of the two figures and the longing, supplicating mouth and eyes of Potiphar’s wife. This is an eternal scene ,which fits the Bible story perfectly.
Joseph’s life has been compared to the life of Jesus. Here Lionello Spada painted also a ‘Noli me Tangere’, ‘Do not touch me lest I be forced to stay'. In doing this, this lesser known artist entered his work in a gallery of masterpiece pictures.

Joseph in Egypt

Yahweh did not forsake Joseph in prison. Soon, the chief gaoler put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners. So, Joseph came to meet in prison Pharaoh’s cupbearer and Pharaoh’s baker. Pharaoh was angry with them and had put them in custody in the goal where also Joseph was a prisoner.

The cupbearer and the baker each had a dream. Joseph interpreted the dreams. He said that Pharaoh would lift the head of the cupbearer in three days and restore him to his position. But to the baker Joseph said that Pharaoh would also lift his head in three days, however by hanging him on a gallows. And so it happened. But contrary to what he had promised, the cupbearer did not remember Joseph when he left prison and forgot about him G38 .

Two years later it happened that Pharaoh had a dream. He saw seven cows, sleek and fat coming up from the Nile and then seven cows, wretched and lean. The wretched and lean cows devoured and ate the seven sleek and fat cows. Pharaoh had another dream. He saw on one stalk seven ears of grain, full and ripe. Sprouting up behind then came seven meagre ears of grain. These swallowed the seven full and ripe ears. All of Pharaoh’s magicians and wise men could not interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Then the chief cupbearer remembered Joseph. He talked to Pharaoh about what had happened in goal and how Joseph had interpreted his own dream and fate. Pharaoh then sent for Joseph.

Pharaoh explained to Joseph what dreams he had had recently. Joseph said to Pharaoh that the two dreams had the same meaning. Joseph interpreted that seven years were coming, bringing great plenty to the whole of Egypt. But then seven years of famine would follow them; He proposed to Pharaoh to take action and appoint supervisors for the country, to impose special taxes during the years of plenty and to store the grain under Pharaoh’s authority keeping it as a reserve for the seven years of famine. Pharaoh and all the ministers approved of what Joseph had said.

Pharaoh saw that Joseph was endowed with the spirit of God. He appointed Joseph as his chancellor. Joseph was to be governor of the whole of Egypt. Pharaoh gave him his ring. He dressed Joseph in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain round his neck. Pharaoh named Joseph then Zaphenath-Paneah and he gave Asenath, daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife G38 .

Joseph travelled throughout the length and breadth of Egypt. He collected food during the seven years of abundance and stored it in Pharaoh’s storerooms. Before the years of famine came Joseph had two sons with Asenath. He called the first Manasseh and the youngest Ephraim. After seven years came the famine. People came to Egypt from all over the world to get supplies from Joseph, and Joseph opened the granaries of Pharaoh and rationed out the grain.

In Canaan, Jacob also lived in the famine. Seeing that there were only supplies to be had in Egypt, he sent out his sons, Joseph’s brothers, to Egypt, except Benjamin the youngest. Joseph’s brothers went and they were among the people trying to get supplies from Pharaoh’s governor.

The brothers bowed down deeply to Joseph. Joseph recognised them, but they did not recognise him. Joseph remembered his dreams then. Joseph did not make himself known and he spoke harshly to them. He told the men he suspected they were spies. They replied that they were all sons of the same man in Canaan but had left their youngest brother with their father. Joseph put them all in custody for three days. Then he had them brought before him. He told them one brother would have to stay in prison and he chose out Simeon for that. The other brothers would have to leave for Canaan and fetch their youngest brother to prove that what they had said was true. Joseph gave them grain and he filled their baskets, returned even their money and sent them back to Canaan.

When Jacob’s sons arrived in Canaan they told Jacob that the governor of Egypt wanted them to bring Benjamin to Egypt as a proof that they were honest men. Then Simeon would be released from prison and could as all move freely about in the country. But Jacob despaired. He did not want to listen. He said Joseph was gone, and also Simeon. He did not want to bear also the brunt of losing Benjamin.

But the famine in Canaan grew worse. Then Israel could not refuse any longer. He sent his sons again on their way to Egypt. He loaded their baggage with the best products of Canaan: balsam, honey, gum trafacarth, resin, pistachio nuts and almonds and he gave them double the amount of money they had taken the first voyage. The brothers set off again. Benjamin accompanied them G38 .

The men arrived in Egypt and were brought before Joseph once more. They offered him the gifts at his house. Joseph invited them to have a meal together for he was much affected at the sight of his younger brother. They feasted with him and drank freely. Then Joseph instructed his chamberlain to fill the men’s sacks with grain but also to hide his silver cup in the sack of the youngest brother.

The brothers left with their donkeys fully loaded. After a while Joseph sent out his chamberlain to catch up with the caravan and to search their sacks, saying that a silver cup was stolen. The chamberlain reached the brothers. He told them they were suspected of theft and that the one on whom the cup would be found would become his slave, the rest to be set free. The cup was found on Benjamin.

The brothers protested now. Judah spoke out and all returned to Joseph. Judah talked to Joseph for all the brothers. He said their father Jacob would grieve atrociously for Benjamin. Judah told that if they returned without Benjamin, Jacob would surely die. Judah spoke with many words and pleaded passionately. Then Joseph could not control his feelings any longer. He sent away his servants and when he was alone with his brothers he made himself known to them G38 .

Joseph forgave his brothers. He told them this was all God’s doing so that he, Joseph, could preserve their lives in the famine and thus assure the survival of their race on earth. Joseph revealed that this was only the second year of the famine and that five more years of hardships were to come to the world.

News reached the Pharaoh’s palace that Joseph’s brothers had arrived. Pharaoh ordained Joseph to load his brothers’ beasts with grain and to hurry them away to Canaan. He told, ‘Fetch your father and your families and come back to me. I will give you the best territory in Egypt, where you will live off the fat of the land.’ So the brothers left Egypt, loaded with food and rich presents.

When his sons arrived in Canaan with all Pharaoh’s wagons, Jacob was stunned. And when he heard from them what had happened and that Joseph was alive and well, he decided to go to Joseph and see him back before his death. So, Israel set out with his possessions, as Pharaoh had proposed.

Arriving at Beersheba, Jacob offered sacrifices to God and to his father Isaac. Then God spoke to Israel, ‘I am El, God of your father. Do not be afraid of going to Egypt for I will make you into a great nation there. I will bring you back again. Joseph’s hand will close your eyes.’ Jacob really left Canaan then without hesitation. He sent Judah ahead of him to announce his coming to Joseph. When he heard his father was arriving, Joseph took his chariot and drove it to Goshen to meet his father there. He threw himself in his arms and both wept for a long time.

Joseph brought his father and presented him to Pharaoh. Pharaoh was clement once again and offered Israel to stay in the best part of the country in the region of Rameses. Thus Israel settled in Egypt, in the region of Goshen. They grew numerous, were fruitful and they acquired property there.

When Jacob’s time to die had come, he made Joseph promise him to carry him back to Canaan and bury him there, and not in an Egyptian tomb. When Jacob was taken ill and in his last moments, Joseph took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim to Jacob. Jacob blessed the children. Jacob told these children would be his, as much as were Reuben and Simeon. Israel laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, his left on the head of Manasseh. Joseph wanted to change that for Manasseh was the elder, but Israel told he knew. Manasseh would grow into a great nation, but Jacob predicted the younger brother would be greater, his offspring sufficient to constitute nations. Then Jacob bade farewell to his sons, who would make up the twelve tribes of Israel, giving each an appropriate blessing. He gave them his instructions to bury him in the cave of Machpelah, and died G38 .

The Borgherini Panels

Joseph led to Prison. Joseph presents his Brothers and his Father to Pharaoh

Francesco Granacci (1477-1543). Galleria degli Uffizi – Florence. 1515.

Episodes of the Life of Joseph the Hebrew, Canaan and Egypt

Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530). Palazzo Pitti, Galleria Palatina – Florence. 1515.

Joseph sold to Potiphar. Pharaoh with his Butler and Baker. Joseph’s Brothers beg for Help. Joseph with Jacob in Egypt.

Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1557). The National Gallery – London. 1515 and 1518.

Joseph receives his Brothers. Joseph pardons his Brothers.

Francesco Ubertini called Bachiacca (1494-1557). The National Gallery – London. 1515.

The Sale of Joseph, The Arrest of his Brothers, The Search for the Stolen Cup, The Finding of the Stolen Cup.

Francesco Ubertini called Bachiacca (1494-1557). The Borghese Gallery – Rome. 1515.

In 1515 Pier Francesco Borgherini, a wealthy nobleman of Florence furnished an apartment of his Borgherini Palace with fine panelling, chests, chairs and a bed all carved in walnut wood by Baccio d'Agnolo G46 . Giorgio Vasari tells in his ‘Lives of the Artists’ that the Borgherini wanted to ensure that the paintings for these apartments corresponded in excellence to the rest of the work in the palace. Borgherini therefore ordered a series of paintings from four Florentine artists. The work was for the marriage apartments of Pier Francesco Borgherini and Margherita Acciaiuolo, who was also of one of the best-known aristocratic families of Florence. All scenes on the chests and also on the paintings were to be on the themes of the life of Joseph.

Francesco Granacci called Granaccio (1477-1543) was then thirty-eight years old. Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530) was twenty-nine. Jacopo Carrucci called Pontormo (1494-1556) and Francesco Ubertini called Bachiacca (1494-1557) were only twenty-one, and all still very young artists though well accomplished already. They were among the very best artists of their generation. Of course, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) were still alive, but too famous and too far from Florence. Michelangelo sculpted desperately the tomb of the Rovere Pope Julius II and in 1515 he feverishly worked for the new Medici Pope Leo X. Michelangelo was quarrying marble for the façade of the Medici church of San Lorenzo in Rome. He quarried in Carrara and Pietrasanta, and was thus too occupied to take on a commission in Florence. Besides, Florence was under Medici reign again and one could not compete with Giovanni and Giuliano de' Medici. Piero di Cosimo (1461-1521) and Lorenzo di Credi (1459-1537) were definitely of the elder generation, and so was Pietro Perugino (1448-1523), whose best period was past. Furthermore, Perugino had left Florence in 1505 for his native Perugia, his reputation slightly damaged. The only other great name of Florentine painting that could have worked at the rooms was Fra Bartolommeo (1472-1517) but he too was not of the new generation, a devote friar of San marco, and thus maybe not so appropriate to decorate bridal chambers. Fra Bartolommeo was growing paralysed on one side and would die somewhat more than a year after the Borgherini paintings were finished.

Florence in 1515 was in a precarious period of peace. Its history of the end of the previous century had been dramatic. The Medici rulers had had to leave the town in 1494 when the French King Charles VIII had invaded the North of Italy. Piero de Medici obviously did not know how to handle the armies of the French King. He panicked and humiliated himself to the French King. The Florentines remarked his weakness keenly, and reacted by throwing him out of the city. Charles VIII entered Florence, but soon left again, and the Florentines revolted against the Medici. Piero fled Florence accompanied by his brother Giuliano. Cardinal Giovanni de Medici fled in monk’s clothes. The Republic of Florence was re-installed and the Signoria and its Gonfalonieres ruled once more.
After these troubled, uncertain times, the monk Savonarola became the virtual ruler of Florence. It was several years before the Signoria could take full control again. The Signoria imprisoned and tortured Savonarola, and finally burnt him publicly in the Piazza della Signoria. The Signoria Priors then ruled Florence for some years. Florence fought until 1509 a long war to recapture Pisa.

In 1512 Pope Julius II warred against the French in a Holy League of Italian States. He defeated the French armies. The Medici, who had diligently supported the Pope, returned to Florence. Cardinal Giovanni de Medici entered Florence with the Pope’s army commanded by the Spanish Neapolitan General Raymond of Cordona. Florence received a new constitution. Cardinal Giovanni installed Giuliano de' Medici at the head of the town. This happened during the time when Michelangelo finished to paint the Sistine ceiling in the Vatican. In 1513 Pope Julius II died, and Giovanni de Medici was elected to become Pope Leo X. Giovenni de' Medici perhaps chose this name as a reference to the emblems of Florence, the lion called the 'marzocco'. Florence still kept lions in a cage behind the Palazzo della Signoria. Perhaps also he wanted a name that sounded as warlike as the names of his predecessors, Alexander (for Alexander the Great) and Julius (for Julius Caesar). In 1515 Francis I, King of France, attacked the North of Italy, fought the Swiss armies, defeated them at the Battle of Marignano, and took Milan. But Florence was left in peace. Giuliano de' Medici could continue to rule Florence in the protection of the Medici Pope Leo X, who lived until 1521.

Giorgio Vasari writes on various accounts of the Borgherini panels.

He recalls them in the life of Jacopo Pontormo. He told that Jacopo painted panels on the chests, but foremost made a picture that hung in a corner on the left as one entered the living room of the Borgherini’s. G46 .
In one of the anecdotes on the pictures, Vasari tells what happened to the works many years after they had hung in the Borgherini rooms. The city of Florence was under siege in 1529 after the Signoria had thrown out the Medici and after it restored republic government under the Gonfaloniere Niccolò Capponi. Pier Francesco Borgherini, a Medici supporter, had to flee for Lucca, leaving his wife alone in Florence. Giovan Battista della Palla who had already in the past been an agent of Francis I the King of France, wanted to present to the king in the name of the Signori the panels of the Borgherini, though he proposed to pay Margherita. But when the party arrived at the house, lady Margherita poured upon Giovan Battista the worst abuse ever offered to any man. She called him a ‘low class second-hand dealer, a cheapskate twopenny trader’ and so on. She showed the bed that was her nuptial bed bought by her father-in-law, Salvi, told them that if they wanted to give presents to the king of France they could strip their own houses bare to send him ornaments and take the beds from their own rooms. The men drooped off, so that the paintings and furnishings remained in Florence.

Vasari also talks on the panels in his life of Andrea del Sarto. Here he said that Andrea made small figures of the stories of Joseph. Andrea devoted an extraordinary amount of time to the paintings, so that his scenes would be more perfect as those of Jacopo Pontormo would be. G46 .

Fourteen panels are now dispersed over various museums. The panels of Jacopo Pontormo and two panels of Bachiacca are in the National Gallery of London. The panels of Bachiacca are called ‘Joseph receives his Brothers on their Second Visit to Egypt’ and ‘Joseph pardons his Brothers’. The four paintings of Jacopo Pontormo are ‘Joseph sold to Potiphar’, ‘Pharaoh with his Butler and Baker’, ‘Joseph’s Brothers beg for Help’ and finally also ‘Joseph with Jacob in Egypt’. This last painting dates from around 1518, so it was made a few years after all other panels. Four additional panels of Bachiacca are in the Borghese Gallery in Rome: ‘The Sale of Joseph’, ‘The Arrest of his Brothers’, ‘The Search for the Stolen Cup’ and ‘The Finding of the Stolen Cup’.

The two large panels of Andrea del Sarto are in the Palatine Gallery of the Pitti Palace in Florence. They are called ‘Episodes from the Life of Joseph’. These panels were the ones particularly sought after by Francis I of France, but bought in 1584 by Francesco I de Medici and exhibited in the Tribune of the Uffizi Gallery, from where a century later they were brought to the Medici’s private palace, the Pitti Palace I15 .
The two panels by Granacci are in the Uffizi. These have as titles ‘Joseph presents his Father and Brothers to Pharaoh’ and ‘Joseph led to the Prison’.

The Granacci and Bachiacca panels are of a somewhat lower quality that the paintings of del Sarto and Jacopo Pontormo. We will not present all panels, but only analyze in short one panel of each artist.

The Granacci paintings

Francesco Granacci, who was originally also known as Francesco d’Andrea di Marco, was a student of Domenico Ghirlandaio. He painted in Ghirlandaio’s workshop and thus he saw also Michelangelo Buonarroti arrive there, when Michelangelo made his first apprenticeship in painting. Granacci became a youth friend of Michelangelo. Michelangelo left Ghirlandaio’s workshop, but Granacci remained and stayed on as assistant to Ghirlandaio. Later, in 1508, Michelangelo engaged Granacci to help him on the Sistine ceiling. But Michelangelo soon dismissed all assistants and Granacci returned to Florence. Granacci worked then alone as a painter and received private commissions, like the panels for the Borgherini rooms. He did not have the personality of an innovator in art, and he continued to work on examples he had seen from Ghirlandaio, Perugino and Fra Bartolommeo. Few pictures remain of this lesser known artist.

Pietro Perugino had left Florence in 1505 but his sublime images were not forgotten. Francesco Granacci remembered Perugino’s views of the vast open squares, in which this artist situated his major scenes such as the ‘Marriage of the Virgin’ (now in the Museum of Caen) or the ‘Presentation of the Keys to Saint Peter’ (in the Sistine Chapel). Granacci’s painting ‘Joseph presents his Father and Brothers to Pharaoh’ is made entirely in the composition and style of Perugino. Granacci used also the ancient technique of tempera painting on the wood panels, whereas the other artists applied oil painting. The ideal of an open space where notables of an imaginary town meet to walk and discuss politics and trade, can be found immediately in Granacci’s scene. This was the ideal of living in an urban environment for the ancient Greek philosophers, and their views were re-discovered in the beginning of the Florentine Renaissance. Granacci imitated Perugino.

On the left of the panel, Joseph intercedes between the men of the court of Pharaoh and his father and brothers. Granacci did not know much of Egypt except the story in the Bible and anyway the story of Joseph needed to be recognised by the Florentine citizens, so he represented the Egyptian court much as a Florentine court of his period. Pharaoh wears a heavy beard, always a sign of wisdom and aristocracy for the Italians, and Pharaoh in the Bible story was a wise potentate. Pharaoh wears a headdress that is more Persian than Egyptian, but this detail brings the oriental note that was needed to situate the scene. The courtiers accompanying Pharaoh are dressed as Florentines. On the other side of Joseph are Jacob and his eleven sons. They have come with their shepherds’ staffs, and kneel in front of Pharaoh, for they have a plea, and they stay at a respectable distance. Further to the right and in the middle background, Granacci painted other ‘Egyptians’. They point in surprise to the left scene so that the viewer’s attention is directed back again to the left, to Joseph, in this long panel. Remark the beautiful landscape in the background. Perugino had also painted a thin blue line of a landscape at the end of his ‘marriage of the Virgin’, but nothing like the lush view that Granacci added. Landscape painting had become more fashionable, though still indeed as background. Granacci painted mostly in ochre huess, but his picture may have been more colourful when he made it. The tempera technique Granacci used may have faded his colours on the wood. Still, some of the remaining bright tones indicate the skills in harmony of colours of Granacci, and also other known panels of this painter show his preference for the soft ochre hues. On or near wooden chests these colours would have better suited in the rooms of the Borgherini.

The panels of Bachiacca

In the right part of the National Gallery panel ‘Joseph pardons his Brothers’ of Bachiacca, Joseph receives his brothers. They abjectly kneel, and deeply bow to the ground before him. Joseph reveals himself as their brother, and he pardons them. In the left scene the brothers are led to Joseph. Benjamin, the brother of the same mother, and the youngest, is brought as a prisoner.

In the middle scene of the picture ‘Joseph receives his brothers on their Second Visit to Egypt’, Joseph’s brothers present gifts to him, as if he were an Egyptian prince who has their fate in his hands. On the left one can see Joseph’s brothers advancing into Egypt, bringing the gifts of Jacob. On the right the brothers leave again. They have not recognised Joseph as their brother.

‘Joseph receives his Brothers’ is an interesting picture when looked at as an evolution from Francesco Granacci to Andrea del Sarto. Bachiacca used the hexagonal temple that Perugino painted often, but he did not anymore show this structure in the far, as Perugino always did. The temple is brought to the foreground, and Joseph thrones in the middle of it. Bachiacca thus brought the horizon closer to the spectator. The figures all cover the foreground, so that there is no ample landscape or wide open square anymore in the back as were in Perugino's paintings. The figures receive full attention, and move before us as if in a parade. Indeed, the timeline is respected from left to right since the brothers arrive, are received, and leave again. The temple building is in the foreground, and it is filled with people. As a result, the elevated sense of cosmic space of Perugino's images is gone, and replaced with the intimacy of figures. The viewer is placed close to the action, amidst the crowd that fills the panel. This feeling of togetherness is different, but not less interesting or less nice than the Perugino image. It gives a much more human and warm feeling to the viewer, and creates a more sympathetic symbiosis between artist and spectator. We almost are led into believing we are in a marketplace amidst the bustle of sellers and buyers. If these panels were in a living room, they must have given a sense of warm presence in the room, so that even a lonely visitor would have felt accompanied.

Remark how intelligently Bachiacca painted a landscape symmetrically on the left and right of the panels, and how skilfully he used the little free space he had in the long panels to generate yet a sense of far lands. The landscape also is painted in all fine details. Vasari told how Bachiacca took delight in painting little figures, and later in depicting grotesques G46 .
The figures are placed with this landscape in an imaginary universe. These details are the ones by which Bachiacca communicates the dignity of the Bible story.

Bachiacca took an obvious delight in presenting his figures. And so do we. He was a lesser-known artist, but what he did on the two Borgherini panels is remarkable. All figures are in different natural poses and all are in movement. On the left the donkeys are being relieved of their packs, and the gifts are being brought to the middle, to be presented to Joseph. All is life, but strangely enclosed within the concern for the scene itself and for the work that is going on. None of the figures look at the viewer; none tries to attract his or her gaze into the scene. The scene is confined to itself, happily committed to its own life, and although the scene is so warmly close to us, the spectators remain outside the scene to watch, excluded from the scene. The scene is oblivious of the viewer. Even Joseph does not look straight at the viewer; he looks sideways. Therefore the spectator is kept at a distance, so that the scene may induce an impression of coldness. We remain unfulfilled. We forget that these scenes were probably painted for chests, which indeed were a closed, intimate and private space with a life of their own.

Granacci painted one scene, but Bachiacca combined three scenes in one. Bachiacca gave much more attention to the figures, so that the viewer is interested in the lively bustle. Bachiacca also used much brighter colours, and he painted in oil on the wood. The pure colours make a wonderful cortège on the most splendid Renaissance dresses. The figures of the panel are all in movement, so that this picture provides a very different sight than the static, frozen impression of Granacci’s painting. Bachiacca thus seems a more accomplished artist than Granacci. Bachiacca knew how to take traditional images of Florentine art and to adapt them in an innovative, personal view. All figures are harmoniously assembled in a lively, natural long scene, in which all figures are in different movements, and in which also animals are depicted. Thereby Bachiacca wonderfully used the dimensions of the panels he had. Few paintings of Bachiacca have survived, but we see here a painter with much skill and imagination, who also dared to show his personal idea on the scenes of Joseph.

Bachiacca knew wonderfully well how to use colour and a far comparison with pictures of Fra Angelico come to mind. Bachiacca painted equally in very light, pure tones: pure red, blue, green and even golden hues. But his colour surfaces are always small and the clothes are painted in all details of folds and the endless patterns of colours varying with the shadows of the light. One can detect horizontal symmetries in the hues on both sides of the temple. Look for instance to the edges of the frame or the edges of the temple, and to the colours that are used there. Bachiacca made a marvel of the two panels, entirely in the Florentine style of rational composition and clarity of design in line and form. Bachiacca first made the intricate drawing of all the figures with well-designed contours, and then he filled in the surfaces with his wonderful colours. His hues are bright, and Bachiacca let a bright sun shine from the left, so that he could mark the shadows on the temple sharply, enhancing the effect of space and volume. In such a long and small panel this is almost genial skill.

Bachiacca’s second panel of the National Gallery, ‘Joseph pardons his Brothers’, is equally wonderful. Here Bachiacca showed that he was really as good a landscape painter as the best Flemish or German artist. We remark again the same symmetry and the open space in the ‘V’ form, as he applied in the first panel. But here more attention is given to the landscape, which represents a river in the middle and two valley slopes to left and right. Again, the soft harmonious colours and the details of this landscape are marvellous. In the figures, Bachiacca has varied his tones. Whereas in the first panel the red tones dominate, here that place was given to the greens.

It is only after having well looked at the details of Bachiacca’s two panels of the National Gallery that we start to understand why the Borgherini rooms had panels by a lesser name as Bachiacca. The artist was still young, but Pier Francesco Borgherini must have known of the great potential of this artist. We can only regret that Bachiacca did not perfect the skills he showed in the two Joseph panels and that so few other works have come to us of this artist. Bachiacca’s panels however were not less worthy than the works of the other three artists.

Four of the panels on the life of Joseph the Egyptian made by Bachiacca have come to the collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese and are now in the Borghese Gallery in Rome. It is not known how the panels arrived there, but they seem to have been already in Rome in 1650 when they were mentioned by Giacomo Manilli. I40 . The panels relate the sale of Joseph, the arrest of his brothers, the search for the stolen cup and its finding. The panels are rather small, and seem to have been located in the lower level of the Borgherini- Acciaiuolo bridal room.

The first panel in the Borghese collection relates the Sale of Joseph, an early episode in Joseph’s life, whereas the other panels represent various episodes of the story of the stolen cup leading to the arrest of the brothers. They show each a different set of figures, and form by that a different class, yet there are similarities. The 'Sale of Joseph' and the 'Arrest' contain four figures. The two other panels have many more figures in them. So, although the first panel is on another episode than the three others, it makes with the second a visual symmetry, so that this positioning of the paintings was probably more explicit on the walls in the Borgherini room.

Bachiacca used warm and bright colours: a pink going to red, golden yellow, green with golden folds and a greyish blue lined with white. In the three paintings on the scenes of the 'Stolen Cup' appears a man dressed with a wide brimmed hat. This man searches for the cup, seems to have found it and arrests the brothers. Bachiacca may have suggested that this was Joseph himself, disguised with a wide hat, the more so since in the first panel the young Joseph is shown also dressed in a pink-red robe. All the figures are nicely painted, and they are in vivid action. Bachiacca presented the scenes in such a way that they can be easily recognised. Also the symmetry of hues in the three last scenes of the Stolen Cup is the same: yellow-golden to the left, red in the middle and blue on the right. This allows the viewer to classify each panel ad belonging to its group. In the first panel, the order is reversed, and slightly modified in hues: bleu-purple is painted to the left, a yellow-red in the middle and a brown-yellow on the right. A painter that has thus thought of indicating differences of scene but similarities in visual effects had to be a master. Bachiacca certainly was that. He handled the panels graciously in fine detail. The landscapes in the background are nicely composed and drawn with minute attention.

In the ‘Arrest of Joseph’s Brothers’ Bachiacca even painted a personage disappearing into a panel, thus creating illusion of a space hidden behind the wooden frame. Viewers such as the Borgherini couple might have amused themselves at discovering other small details, such as how the figures move from one position to another in the various panels. Indeed, in the three last paintings Bachiacca represented the same figures, in the same clothes and wearing the same hats, but in different places and poises. The paintings are thus not only a visual delight, but also a delight for the curiosity of interested viewers.

The panels of Andrea del Sarto

Andrea del Sarto was ten years younger than Francesco Granacci was. In his two panels, so devotedly painted taking enough patient time, del Sarto recalled many scenes of the Bible stories of Joseph. Granacci showed only one scene in each of his panels. Del Sarto made a countryside painting, which we will call the ‘Canaan’ panel and a city view, which we will call the ‘Egypt’ panel, for these paintings also refer to these sites and to these parts of the stories. The Egypt panel refers to the life of Joseph in Egypt, but like with Granacci, the buildings show a Florentine Renaissance setting. The many figures of the two del Sarto panels are also dressed as Florentines, but for a few details that denote the oriental side.

In the Canaan panel of Andrea del Sarto, one can see mainly stories of the crime of Jacob’s sons. In the foreground Jacob and Rachel are talking but Rachel’s son and brother to Joseph, Benjamin points to a scene of the background. Benjamin walks towards the well where Joseph’s brothers have thrown Joseph in, to drown or where they all are discussing his fate. There is thus no unity of time since various scenes that happened at different moments of time are shown in the same picture. Andrea Del Sarto tried to bring a spatial line in the narratives. Benjamin points to the start of the stories. A bit further than the scene of the well, Joseph’s brothers sell him to travellers on their way to Egypt. Then we should look at the imposing promontory of the background, the hill with trees that Andrea del Sarto majestically placed in the middle of the panel. Here Reuben kills a sheep and drenches Joseph’s cloak in the blood. Then he descends the hill with the reddened cloak. This scene makes one think of course of Golgotha, also a hill outside Jerusalem.

Jesus Christ was crucified on Golgotha, and Jesus was represented in the Middle Ages as the slaughtered Lamb of God. Del Sarto succeeded in combining Joseph’s story and the symbols of the death of Jesus. Therefore the hill mounts to the heavens in his panel. The story of Joseph bears much parallel likeness to the passion of Jesus. Joseph was betrayed and thrown in a well. Jesus also was betrayed. Pharaoh imprisoned Joseph. Caiaphas imprisoned Jesus. A lamb was slaughtered to redden Joseph’s cloak. Jesus was compared to the Lamb of God. Joseph had to flee from the seduction by the wife of Potiphar, whereas Mary Magdalene was a converted harlot. Joseph interceded for his brothers to Pharaoh, while Jesus intercedes for all mankind to God the Father. This likeness between the two stories, in which Middle Age theologians saw mystic parallels, may be the reason why Pier Francesco Borgherini ordered the paintings of Joseph. Many pictures of Jesus’s passion in one living room might have been too directly religious and make too many cruel scenes for Margherita's sensitivity. Pictures of the life of Joseph could be more picturesque, less obviously violent than pictures of Christ, and could give the owner of the house a status of intellectual for seeing the symbolic parallels. That may be the reason why the series on the life of Joseph is a not so rare subject in the Italian Cinquecento, a period in which few pictures were made of the Old Testament. The parallel can in particular be seen in the Granacci picture, where Joseph is depicted as the incorporation of Jesus.

In the right foreground of Andrea del Sarto’s painting, Reuben shows the bloodied cloak of Joseph to Jacob. Jacob tears at his garments. On the left foreground is the home of Jacob. Here the family weeps over Joseph’s presumed death and over the coming famine. Benjamin also can always easily be found.

Del Sarto’s paintings are in beautiful hues, subdued and yet bright and contrasting so that the scenes and figures stand well out from the background. The figures can be recognised, because they keep the same clothes in the same colours throughout the various scenes. So we can easily follow Jacob, Benjamin and Reuben. Reuben is present in almost all the scenes: he wears a red robe, a wide hat, and a yellow short cloak on the shoulders.

Del Sarto and Granacci tell stories. But remark the difference in vision. Granacci uses Perugino’s elevated image of the imaginary, the ideal Town Square that inspires feelings of the sublime. But this figure was now a traditional one. Perugino had used the image several times already and Raphael, a Perugino student, had copied it. Granacci’s figures are static, moving yet poising as if in a halted dream, caught in a moment of slow motion. Granacci’s picture shows the grace of old Florence, the dignity and the aspirations of the Renaissance. But the picture remains an ideal far from Florentine reality. And Granacci did not innovate nor did he show his own personality. He remained traditional and also painted but one scene.

Del Sarto also did not reject traditional views on the art of painting, and he certainly continued the Florentine tradition of giving prominence to drawing, lines and form, rather than to colour. But we detect already an evolution. Del Sarto introduces a liveliness that forebodes the Baroque and which tehrefore art historians classify as High Renaissance. His figures are all in motion. Even when the persons are talking and standing still their arms and hands move. In the front scene of the Canaan picture Benjamin is all nervousness and impatience. He is pointing to the crime scene of the well. Del Sarto liked to tell much of the life of Joseph and so capture the interest of his viewers. So he showed many scenes and diligently combined these in the space of his panel in a fluent timeline. As we saw, del Sarto made obvious the parallels between Joseph and Jesus in an intelligent way. He brought the various stories in a well-balanced composition. Thus in front are three scenes, presented in a symmetric way around the centre family scene. By depicting his figures in smaller dimensions higher on the panel, he created perspective and a vast panorama. Del Sarto created an illusion of a very wide landscape in his Canaan panel.

Joseph is not present at all in the Canaan picture; Del Sarto succeeds in hinting at Joseph’s presence however, so that although invisible, Joseph becomes present in the panel, but only in our minds.

In the Egypt panel of Andrea del Sarto, Joseph takes part in various scenes. Joseph is imprisoned, he leads his father in, and in a final scene Joseph kneels before Jacob, and reveals who he really is. On the left are a small scene of a bedchamber and a splendid small image of a nude man. This may be a reference to the bridal room for which the picture was made, and a reference also to the tale of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, in which Joseph had to flee away nude.

The evolution from Granacci to Del Sarto is obvious. Granacci showed the Platonic ideal of elevated concepts. Del Sarto brought the viewer back to reality. Granacci represented an ideal, whereas Del Sarto told stories and showed symbols in a subtle way. Granacci’s message is simple; Del Sarto’s messages are dense. Both artists transported the stories into their own times and dressed the actors in Renaissance attire. But del Sarto’s aim was not to depict refined courtiers. He told many but simple stories of everyday people.

In these paintings landscapes obtained ever more importance and that may have been under the influence of northern art. In the Granacci picture the landscape is far behind. Perugino reduced the landscape behind the temple to a thin blue line of far hills. Granacci emphasises it already more and adds details of trees and fields. Del Sarto developed the landscape as an important element of the symbolism of his Canaan picture, since the central promontory recalls Golgotha. He too finishes trees and bushes of the hills in all detail. He gave much more attention to nature and honoureds it with minuscule details.

The four paintings of Jacopo Pontormo

Jacopo Pontormo produced his pictures for the Borgherini Palace when he was twenty-one years old. He had had the best masters of Florence, starting with Leonardo da Vinci, to teach him the art of painting. He learned with Piero di Cosimo and with Mariotto Albertinelli. When he was eighteen years old, around 1512, he entered the workshop of Andrea del Sarto, but he had left Andrea already when the Borgherini rooms were furnished. Pontormo never stayed long with one and the same master, though he was known as a good artist at a very young age. Giorgio Vasari wrote in his ‘Lives’ that Andrea del Sarto worked to make his pictures better than the ones of the other artists. But we may doubt on whether del Sarto made his pictures after Pontormo. Moreover, we are certain that Pontormo made his ‘Joseph in Egypt’ panel two to three years later than his other paintings.

In ‘Joseph sold to Potiphar’, the scene shows Joseph as a young boy standing before his new master, Potiphar the Egyptian. On the left are the Ishmaelites who sold Joseph, grappling for their payment. Pontormo painted Roman statues on high columns in his pictures. Here he painted a statue of charity and may have emphasised the moral message of the Bible story. In ‘Pharaoh with his Butler and Baker’, Pontormo showed the butler descending the stairs to be saved, whereas the baker is brutally taken from his cell and then on the lower left led to his execution. ‘Joseph’s brothers beg for Help’ is a lower but longer panel. One sees Joseph seated on a parade car and his brothers knelt before him, begging for food. On the right in this panel the opulence of Joseph’s good management is illustrated, for people wear the sacks of wheat on their shoulders. This panel is inscribed with the words in Latin for ’Behold the Saviour of the World’ and ‘Behold the Salvation of the World’. This is a reference, this time of Pontormo, to ‘Ecce Salvator Mundi’ or ‘I am the Saviour of the World’, one of the titles of Jesus Christ. The four panels made by Pontormo are in the same style but his last picture, ‘Joseph in Egypt’, is the most accomplished.

Jacopo Pontormo was much inspired by the Canaan picture of del Sarto for his own last and largest panel of ‘Joseph in Egypt’. Pontormo painted here on the left the episode where Joseph presents his father to Pharaoh. On the right foreground Joseph is seated on a parade cart and he listens to someone who is giving him a petition. The parade car could be seen as an extraordinary extravagancy here. But Giorgio Vasari himself talks in his ‘Lives of the Artists’ and in particular in the life of Andrea del Sarto of such parades G46 . He recounts how in the same year 1515, when the Borgherini panels were made, Pope Leo X wished to grace his native land with an official Papal visit. The city of Florence - read Giuliano de' Medici - offered a reception worthy of a king. Vasari tells of the wonderfully decorated arches and gates that were on the way of the Pope, as well as the statues that greeted him everywhere on the road. He tells how Antonio da San Gallo made a temple with eight sides, which must have been like the Granacci temple. Granacci himself built and decorated together with Aristotile di San Gallo an arch between the abbey and the palace of the Podestà. The façade of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore was made of wooden panels decorated by Andrea del Sarto. Other artists, all the best of Florence, worked at the decorations: Baccio Bandinelli, Rosso Fiorentino, Jacopo Sansovino and many others. When Pope Leo entered Florence in September of 1515, Vasari wrote that this spectacle was judged to be the most grandiose ever devised, and the most beautiful. Jacopo Pontormo of course must have participated in this feast, and it almost certainly inspired him for his pictures.

Behind the scene of the cart in his picture, Joseph and one of his sons, which is probably his eldest son Ephraim, climb the spiral stairs. On top of the stairs Ephraim is well received. Finally on the upper right the dying Jacob receives Joseph and blesses Joseph’s sons.

Jacopo Pontormo painted on the left in this picture a scene in which Joseph presents himself before his father Jacob. We prefer to adhere to this, Vasari’s interpretation of the scene. Another explanation can be that the scene is Joseph presenting his father to Pharaoh. The same scene, even with Joseph dressed with a cloak in almost the same colours, can be found as the main scene of del Sarto’s Egypt painting. Del Sarto pictured stairs on the right to show scenes of the imprisonment of Joseph. Pontormo also painted stairs with episodes on the right. Del Sarto put buildings on left and right. He painted a palace on the right and a bedchamber on the left. The palace has low stairs that lead to the door. Pontormo also used buildings on left and right and also low stairs. But the bed scene is on the right and the stairs are the stairs of a parade car on the right. Del Sarto leads a natural promontory to the skies in the Canaan picture. Pontormo also used an image of elevation, but he showed the spiralling stairs to heaven. Pontormo thus used separate elements of del Sarto’s picture and re-arranged them. The references to del Sarto are clear however. It is as if Pontormo had wanted to take del Sarto’s picture and use it to show how differently he, Pontormo, could handle such a same subject.

We saw an evolution from the Perugino vision of Granacci to the crowd of figures of Bachiacca and to the combination of landscape and story telling in many scenes of del Sarto. We have to admit that with the pictures of Pontormo altogether forces of a higher level were at work. Here is an entirely new vision. Figures play a dominant role as in Bachiacca’s panels or as in del Sarto’s and immediately we obtain an impression of aesthetic elevation as in the Granacci views. Pontormo combined these feelings to a fantasy that is extraordinary. His pictures seem to elevate the soul to a sublime, aesthetic dream.

How did Pontormo inspire such feelings of spiritual transcendence? The effect is mostly created by the long, narrow spiral stairs that ascend to the top of the frame and by the long slender Greek columns that rise to the heavens. Even more, Pontormo painted the leftmost antique statue in a poise in which it is groping and reaching out for the skies. This statue elegantly indicates the direction of a noble soul that seeks beauty and spiritual values of another nature than the economic values of the Florentine traders. The same line of ascending aspiration is to be found in the scene of Joseph revealing his father and brothers to Pharaoh. The figures there creep over the stairs, then kneel, then hesitantly advance as a soul ascending in humility to God.

Pontormo presented the lightness of the soul also in his hues. He used very bright colours, the colours of acquarel or the chalky colours of early fresco painting. In this too he contrasted consciously with del Sarto’s heavy oily colours. Pontormo took del Sarto’s picture as example, and then he set his own picture off against this example of his former master, to create a vision that could not be further away from del Sarto’s concepts. Thus to del Sarto’s warm, even sombre colours, Pontormo applied the very light tones of fresco. Against the dense landscape, he put the bright colours of his own middle landscape, in which there is neither green of meadows nor brown of trees but merely the light yellowish tones of the desert or of a sun-scorched rock. Pontormo showed that he too could picture in various scenes in a balanced, natural composition in the same frame and stay consistent in vision. But he replaced the warm earthiness of del Sarto and del Sarto’s appealing density of narration with the elevation of mind of Perugino. In doing this he surpassed Perugino and created something entirely new. In del Sarto we found the realisation of the rational, economic, down-to-earth almost immediate materialistic Florentine mind. Pontormo was the radical, mystic thinker, the impulsive and melancholic lonely genius and poet who drew the images of figures and scenes into extremes of the bizarre and of fantasy. Of course, youth is inclined to such daring excesses, and Pontormo was quite younger than del Sarto when he made this last scene. Pontormo’s first three panels testify to this same vision, which altogether in another style of represnetation than the style of the other painters, wherefore art historians have called Pontormo's style the beginning of Mannerism.

Jacopo Pontormo took del Sarto’s picture, analysed the scenes, dissected them and then re-assembled them differently, with the composition of a wizard, into a new painting with an entirely new vision that came forward from a deeper sense of religion and of the Bible story. Pontormo took his concepts as far as he possibly could in a daring magic. He probably never went further in his subsequent pictures, as of course his youth matured. Therefore this panel of his is still today acclaimed as an oddity, regularly printed as an extravagancy from the times of Pier Francesco Borgherini, as a Mannerist work. We agree with Giorgio Vasari, himself a Mannerist painter, when he stated in his ‘Lives’, ‘It would be impossible to find another picture executed with as much grace, perfection and excellence as this painting by Jacopo’ G46 .

Jacopo Pontormo created hereby a new style. His Borgherini panels so impressed that he brought Mannerism quite further along. And the fame of the Borgherini panels passed the borders of Italy. Today the Borgherini’s are forgotten, so are the Palazzo Borgherini and its furniture. But the Borgherini panels still exist, and have been preciously preserved over the centuries.

One of the great artists that would understand and continue Pontormo’s style was a young child that accompanied Pontormo already everywhere. Jacopo Pontormo painted his young friend, pupil, confident, later assistant and lifelong companion Agnolo Bronzino in the form of the child seated in brown clothes on the stairs of Pharaoh’s palace, down beneath the stairs of art that Bronzino was to ascend brilliantly. Bronzino is seated among the angels and already talking to the aristocrats that would in the future commission so many portraits to him.

Other paintings of Joseph’s Life

Joseph selling Wheat to the People

Bartholomeus Breenbergh (1598-1657). Barber Institute of Fine Arts – University of Birmingham. 1665.

We are hundred and fifty years later than the Borgherini panels. Bartholomeus Breenbergh (1598-1657) was a Dutch painter of Amsterdam. He had worked in Italy for a while and had returned to his native Amsterdam in 1633. Several painters introduced paintings on Italian models, so much so that these artists are now categorised as a group by the name of the Dutch Italianates. Breenbergh made a picture in 1655 of another popular theme of the life of Joseph, a scene in which Joseph distributes wheat and cattle to the famished people of Egypt.

Bartholomeus Breenbergh worked of course in his own style and for Dutch artists of the seventeenth century the moral message conveyed by the subject was as important as the picture itself. Here the message was one of prudence and of preparedness for worse times. Joseph had foreseen bad years and he had prepared Egypt for them. Dutch merchants took risks, but a good advice was to hedge the risks and to look far in the future to be prepared for catastrophes in business. The Calvinist Netherlands preachers said the same. Charity had to be organised. One had to live a prudent economic life in order to be prepared at any time to stand before the Last Judge.

As a judge indeed Joseph stands above the whole picture in Breenbergh’s work. Joseph towers over the sale of wheat. Joseph rules over the scene like an eastern potentate. Beneath him his administrators keep counts. Breenbergh had seen enough in the industrious Netherlands just how important accounts were. Beneath the accountants the people are receiving and taking away the sacks of wheat, and the cattle. They load their donkeys for far travel over Egypt. Remark the composition of Breenbergh in the now well known open ‘V’. In the lower open space we see no vast landscape but the blue sky and a far cupola reminding of the Roman Pantheon. Dutch Italianates liked landscapes with ancient Roman ruins and scenes of shepherds with their grazing flocks. On the two sides of the ‘V’ are scenes of Joseph and the Egyptians. On the left is a scene of camels, maybe of Joseph’s brothers arriving in the land. The camels, the obelisk and the eastern dress of Joseph are some of the details whereby Breenbergh situates the scene indeed in Egypt.

Most importantly, look at the similitudes between the picture of Bartholomeus Breenbergh and the painting of ‘Joseph in Egypt’ of Jacopo Pontormo. Even though more than a century had passed, Pontormo’s panels of the Borgherini rooms were still exercising their influence. Breenbergh may have seen the panels in the Uffizi or in the Medici’s Pitti palace. We find many elements of Pontormo’s picture in Breenbergh’s painting. Breenbergh obtained the general feeling of elevation by the same effects as Pontormo. There are stairs on the right that rise high. A statue that reaches even higher and puts man on an elevated pedestal tops the stairs. The statue is not one of antiquity anymore, but the statue of an Italian statesman. Nevertheless, the concept of aspiration to the heavens has been preserved. An obelisk on the left points to the heavens. This obelisk is an Egyptian symbol. It is the most important element in the picture to remind that this was a tale of Egypt. But the obelisk also plays its role as a sign that markedly warns of the power of God. Pontormo knew obelisks but he had not used one in his picture, maybe because he sensed a mixture of Egyptian and Roman elements were not in harmony. Also, Pontormo’s structures are not of any period specifically.

We find in Bartholomeus Breenbergh’s picture the same open ‘V’ structure of symmetric composition with a scene of the left and the right as in Pontormo’s picture.

Jacopo Pontormo was dead since a very long time in 1655 and Breenbergh was already more than twenty years back from Florence and back from having seen Pontormo’s original picture. Yet we have here a significant testimony to the power and fascination of remarkable pictures of genius. Jacopo Pontormo’s vision continued to exert fascination over European artists.

Other influences were at work in Breenbergh’s painting. The scenes of the figures are Baroque. The people on the balcony, the free movements of the figures, the blue sky with the vaguely indicated clouds are all elements that point to Venetian painting. The picture of Breenbergh uses Pontormo’s vision but the warm colours are part Veronese and Tintoretto. Breenbergh, as many of the growing number of Dutch Italianates absorbed various Italian images and styles and we see here an interesting mix of Florentine and Venetian features.

Judah and Tamar

Aert De Gelder (1645-1727). The Picture Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts. Vienna. 1682/1684.

Judah, Joseph’s brother, had not wanted to kill Joseph and therefore had proposed to sell Joseph to the Midianites. After that, Judah left his brothers and settled with a Midianite called Hirah. Judah married with a daughter of a Canaanite called Shua and he had three sons by her, called Er, Onan and Shelah. When his sons had grown up, Judah chose a wife for his first son, a woman called Tamar. But Er offended Yahweh and Yahweh killed him. Judah gave Tamar to Onan then, telling that thus Er’s line would be continued. But Onan knew that if a child were born the line would not be his so he spilled his seed on the ground every time he slept with his brother’s wife. This displeased Yahweh so Yahweh killed Onan too. The third brother of the family, Shelah, was still too small, so Judah sent Tamar back to her father to wait until Shelah had grown up.

Judah’s wife died. He buried her and when he was comforted, one day, he went to Timnah for the shearing of his sheep. That was near the house of Tamar and when Tamar heard that, she reflected that she was still not given to Shelah although Shelah had grown up. So she wrapped a veil around her to disguise herself, and sat down at the entrance to Enaim on the way to Timnah. Judah, seeing her, took her for a prostitute and asked to sleep with her. He did not recognise Tamar as his daughter-in-law. To allow Judah to sleep with her, Tamar agreed to receive a kid of his flock but she asked for a pledge to this promise. She asked Judah to give her his seal and cord and the staff he was holding, as a pledge of his promise. Judah slept with Tamar and later sent the kid by his friend, Hirah the Adullamite, begging him to recover the pledge. But Hirah did not find Tamar anymore and a prostitute was unknown in the village. Judah told Hirah not to care for the pledge.

About three months later, people came to tell Judah that his daughter-in-law had been playing the harlot and that she had become pregnant because of her misconduct. Judah ordered her to be brought to him, to be burned alive. But Tamar then sent a word to her father-in-law, telling that the man whose seal and cord and staff she had here, had slept with her. Judah recognised them and said that the woman was right since he, Judah, had not given her to his son Shelah. But he also had no further intercourse with Tamar.

When Tamar gave birth, a first-born stuck out a hand out of her womb. The midwife tied a scarlet thread around the hand, indicating that it was the first to arrive because Tamar was pregnant of twins. Butt he child withdrew his hand and his brother came out first. The midwife then said that the first baby had opened quite a breach for himself and she called him Perez. But she called the baby with the scarlet thread Zerah.

Aert De Gelder made a painting that is presumably of Judah and Tamar. De Gelder was a student of Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn from 1661 on and afterwards he lived and worked in the town of Dordrecht. De Gelder continued to work in Rembrandt’s style, though modulated with his own views. He used dark brown hues often, used little blue and applied also contrasts between light and dark parts of a scene. His painting ‘Judah and Tamar’ is no exception on this technique. Moreover, De Gelder sought much less-known stories form the bible and represented these without much reference to the story itself so that it is not always easy to find back what story exactly he referred to.

In ‘Judah and Tamar’ Aert De Gelder obviously shows an elderly man in full lust kissing and hugging a young woman of which he has already opened the shirt.

Aert De Gelder painted a simple scene in a simple composition and in simple colours. We see only the two figures, Judah and Tamar. The composition is a traditional pyramid used in many portraits. De Gelder used only ochre, brown and deep yellow and orange colours. All the importance of the scene lays in the psychology of the two figures. We see the old Judah with a heavy turban as also Rembrandt sometimes represented his Bible personages. Judah tenderly hugs Tamar’s face with his hand and he smiles in lechery. De Gelder used a dark green colour on Judah’s robe, an indiscriminate, neutral colour. Tamar, dressed in a broken white but orange-lined robe, all too eagerly and happily abandons herself to the caresses. As only decoration De Gelder painted a few lines of plants behind the couple, to indicate that the scene happened on a road.

Aert De Gelder made a picture that was not very ambitious, completely in the style of his master Rembrandt. He was a good painter, but with such themes lacked the imagination of his teacher to bring new surprising views and handling of the subject. But his ‘Judah and Tamar’ proves that almost any story from the Bible has been taken up at one time or other by painters.

Joseph in Prison

Anonymous. Abbey of Saint Savin – Saint Savin, France. Second half of the eleventh century.

We have so far looked at two series of paintings of Joseph’s life. To close this book, there is a last series of Joseph to mention. With this last cycle we could also have opened the Book of Genesis in a grand way because the frescoes of the church of Saint Savin in the middle of France are the earliest surviving grand pictorial monument to Genesis in Western Europe.

There was already at the beginning of the ninth century an abbey at Saint Savin, situated inside a castrum built by Charlemagne, the first Frankish emperor. The abbey was dedicated to two martyrs, Savin and Cyprien, of whom no account of their lives really exists and who are known only from legends that have come out of the nebula of time. The abbey of Saint Savin shone over the whole of Aquitaine in the ninth century, close to the city of Poitiers. Various abbots reformed the monastery and added to its splendour F19 .

The interiors of Romanesque churches were usually extensively covered with polychrome paintings but these have almost all disappeared. The earliest Western European frescoes that were preserved are in the Saint Savin church. The porch, tribune, nave, crypt and axial chapels contain remnants of frescoes made by anonymous artists. The porch contains pictures of the New Testament, of the apostles and of the benefactors of the abbey that is of Charlemagne, Louis Le Pieux and Benedict of Aniane. Here also are impressive scenes from the Apocalypse, showing that the eschatological images remained important in the darker Middle Ages. The four walls of the tribune were covered with frescoes from the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. The crypt was covered with scenes from the very vivid but legendary lives of Saint Savin and Saint Cyprien, two brothers from Roman times who were tortured and martyred by a Roman proconsul called Ladicius and his relative, Maximus. Here in the crypt were probably kept the relics of the saints. The marvel of Saint Savin is this crypt, but also in a grand way the decoration of the church’s nave. Decoration is not the right word, for really artistic pictures are to be found in the nave.

Hundreds of square metres of Saint Savin’s walls and ceilings were covered with paintings. The nave vault is a surface of 42 metres long and with a semi-circumference of 11 metres. The nave has a total surface of 462 square metres. F19. It is entirely covered by scenes from the Books of Genesis and Exodus. There are sixty different scenes and most of these have been preserved and can still be admired today. The pictures date from the second half to the end of the eleventh century. There are about twelve scenes from the Creation; three on Abel and Cain, and about ten are on the stories of the Deluge and Noah. The series on Noah contains a marvellous large picture of the ark, which is very visible and particularly strikes the attention of visitors who look up high against the vault. The church was considered a kind of ark offering spiritual solace in a secular sea of wars and persecution. The nave also holds a scene of the Tower of Babel. There are furthermore twelve scenes on Abraham and Lot, one on Isaac and Jacob. And then there are not less than nine scenes from Joseph’s life, showing again the importance Joseph’s story received in Middle Age times. Finally, there are ten pictures of Moses’ life from the Book of Exodus.

The colours of the frescoes of Saint Savin have much faded but the drawings can be readily recognised. Especially the red and brown, yellow and ochre colours have survived; here and there a patch of green remains. It is difficult to imagine how the vault must have looked like in probably very bright and varied colours, freshly painted in the eleventh century. The effect must have been astonishing and impressive. No other buildings but these churches could have presented such grand effect. These buildings were the focus of work and attention of the community, their pride and hope for divine intervention. We discover very narrative scenes that represent a very lively, poignant tale of Genesis and Exodus. Many of the figures are in movement and the painters of Saint Savin knew how to show the exact moment of action as told in the Bible. These artists were storytellers first, so that the devote that came to pray in the church could follow the scenes like a long strip of pictures on the nave vault. Here priests and monks could point out the Bible stories to the young that came to be instructed in the abbey.

The figures of Saint Savin are painted in a style that may be called naïve, as artisans did in a rather primitive way. But much more is at work. The aim of the painters was not to excel in art, but to tell and to find resonance for their stories in the viewers. Therefore they worked quickly, adding not too many details but anyway presenting striking scenes in an easily recognisable way. Still, the works at Saint Savin must have taken many years, maybe five or more years, to finish. The painters were maybe artisans, but then artisans who were more than just local people of the village or the abbey who could paint. The pictures from the Bible show that these masters knew well the Bible. And that meant they could read Latin, the only language in which the Bible could be read in the eleventh century. They knew old symbols. They had seen pictures from many parts of Europe. They must have had little or no instruction in the techniques and patience of art, the beauty that can be generated by detail and by realist forms. Therefore they concentrated on the narrative. But they did start to apprehend and appreciate nice details and the power of expression of emotions. Wassily Kandinsky wrote in 1911, ‘The object (the real object) need not be reproduced with precision. On the contrary, its imprecision only intensifies the purely painterly composition. The timely (or truly contemporary) work of art reflects, inter alia, its epoch.’ These words apply splendidly to the works of the masters of Saint Savin. Their frescoes touch still our souls a thousand years later.

One of the scenes of Saint Savin is ‘Joseph in Prison’. Joseph is shown literally caved in, with round walls of bricks closely all around him. Joseph is wretched, deep in thoughts. He supports his head with his right arm and one with one elbow on his knee. Joseph represents the true image of a man in a state of depression, walled in from all sides and pitying on his own fate. The artists of Saint Savin expressed thus clearly emotions as Joseph may have felt in the Bible story, but the poignancy of his state is not told as directly in the Bible. The artists of Saint Savin knew that words could not express emotions as clearly as pictures. They took ample advantage of this to emphasise their own art. The structure of the prison can be seen around Joseph, of course without the sophistication of perspective, but lines are reclining towards the back. Pharaoh is sitting majestically on his throne. Joseph is brought to Pharaoh in his prisoner’s clothes. A courtier of Pharaoh leads Joseph in and in a vivacious gesture he indicates Joseph to Pharaoh. Joseph is brought in with a small beard, his hands bound. The artists drew finely an expression of fear and astonishment on Joseph’s face. Joseph has to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.

Various decorations can be found in this fresco. Above Pharaoh is a Roman arch; this arch continues in an arch of Joseph’s prison on the right and between is a wall on which is written in clear letters the name of Joseph. Pharaoh’s throne is made from two mythical creatures; one has the head of an eagle and the other the head of a cat. So the painters knew the place the cat played in Egyptian mythology. Pharaoh is seated at ease but with great dignity of power. He holds a long staff or sceptre and he holds one hand closed to a fist against his leg in a gesture of arrogance and of scepticism. Pharaoh is dressed like a Byzantine emperor, like for instance in the well-known mosaics of the East-Roman Emperor Constantine. Further decorations can be seen in the columns with the Romanesque wave patterns and in the same motif of decoration under the picture.

The scene of ‘Joseph in Prison’ is a lively narrative scene in which the artists of Saint Savin proved their worth. We see a scene that expresses with great immediacy the crux of the story. The artists did not miss the act but gave the very moment of the drama. They started to introduce decorations and symbols in their pictures. However naïve the technique, they gave their viewers one of the first wonders of pictorial art: how to choose from reality to represent feelings. They knew very well to express how their figures felt in a particular situation, how to express the essence of a story and they added the first elements of decorative beauty to their pictures.

Jacob blessing Joseph’s Children

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606-1669). Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen. Kassel. 1656.

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn was one of the greatest painters of the seventeenth century. Yet, he did not have an easy life. He was happy at first and then intensely sad. He was born in 1606 in the town of Leyden in the Netherlands. He started to study philosophy at Leyden University, but abandoned these courses for the art of painting around 1622 already. He studied painting with various masters: Jacob Isaacz van Swanenburgh and Jan Lievens in Leyden and for a short while also with Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam. In 1631 Rembrandt travelled once more to Amsterdam, already a well known painter, and he would live there for the rest of his life. In 1634 he married Saskia van Uylenburgh, the niece of the arts dealer in whose house he lived then. These years were happy for Rembrandt and he adored his young bride. He had many successes in painting. Then, the same year in which he made the now world famous ‘Night Watch’, in 1642, his wife died. To keep his household and raise his children, a first servant and then a second, Hendrickje Stoffels, entered his house. Rembrandt lost money, could not pay anymore his expenses with his painting alone. He contracted loans and made debts. Hendrickje Stoffels became his mistress.

Rembrandt painted ‘Jacob Blessing Joseph’s Sons’ in 1656. Rembrandt was in deep financial trouble then. So much so, that he transferred the property deed to his house to his son Titus, who was barely sixteen years then, so that his creditors would not take away the house. In that same year 1656 Rembrandt was declared bankrupt. His paintings and his house were publicly sold anyway, but the resulting amount of that sale was even not enough to pay off all his debts. Rembrandt and his family moved to another house in Amsterdam. From then on he worked not for his own account, but for Hendrickje Stoffels and for his son Titus, who had become an arts dealer. Titus received a tutor, who was not his father the painter, and after long trials this tutor would recuperate Titus’ belongings. Hendrickje Stoffels and Titus managed Rembrandt’s production so that each new painting would not automatically fall in the hands of the creditors.

In 1663 Hendrickje Stoffels died, in 1665 his son Titus. Rembrandt was practically alone then and he lived with his daughter-in-law until his death in 1669.

The year 1656 was tragic for Rembrandt. And yet he painted a scene of a happy family, even though the mood of the picture is sad. Jacob lies in bed, dying. Joseph and his wife have brought their two children and Jacob blesses them even though they are not the children of a fully Jewish couple, since Joseph’s wife was not a Jew.

Rembrandt shows Jacob as a very old, wise man that has remained strong and robust to the very end. He has a long white beard that proves his wisdom and he wears a long white fur cloak as a sign of his hierarchy over the Jews. Rembrandt painted Jacob with sagging head, head deep into his shoulders and by that feature indicates to the viewer that Jacob is sick. Therefore his head comes somewhat forward, and in front of Joseph. Joseph lovingly leans toward his father. He wears an oriental turban, which Rembrandt uses to tell the viewer that Joseph was different from the Jews since he had lived such long time in Egypt, far from Canaan. Jacob and Joseph are close and loving, whereas Joseph’s wife stands further off. She knows that she is not a Jew and she does not enter into the symbiosis between father, son and grandchildren that will continue Jacob’s generation. Thus quite openly, Rembrandt shows the psychology of the scene.

All figures in the painting look tenderly. Joseph is the central figure, the figure that viewers will examine first, maybe attracted also by Joseph’s turban. Joseph looks at his father. Jacob then looks at the children and Joseph’s wife also looks at these. So Rembrandt guided the view of spectators always back to the children. These are the real importance in the picture since they are the future of the race. Rembrandt isolated Joseph’s wife in the picture. That isolation is also in the composition. The outlines of the figures of Joseph, Jacob and the children form a triangle shape. That triangle is placed somewhat to the left, not in the middle, and is balanced by the shape of Joseph’s wife. But the woman is not part of the triangle of male tenderness. Furthermore, the light of the scene is shed on Jacob, the children and somewhat lesser to Joseph. Here is the triangle of light. Rembrandt painted Joseph’s wife in black. Thus she is more part of the background, and again, by the contrasts of light and dark Rembrandt marked the isolation of the woman. Her tender face however is not a face in anger, but a face as loving and tender as all the other faces in the painting. Rembrandt used all harmonious colours, hues and tones in his picture. The colours change very gradually and harmoniously evolve into similar, neighbouring hues. Rembrandt used no blue, a colour he almost never applied, and spare green. But the blanket on the bed is a splendid red. This red area forms the prolongation of the triangle of Jacob, Joseph and the children and thus stabilises even more this surface, turning it into a larger three-dimensional pyramid structure. We see here Rembrandt’s formidable intelligence of design at work.

It is always dangerous to make conjectures on parallels between this picture and Rembrandt’s life. But if the artist did not deliberately chose this subject to reflect on his own position, he could not but have thought tenderly about the image. He might have seen himself as an old patriarch surrounded as a happy family by his son, his son’s wife and his grandchildren. Maybe in 1656 he saw an end to his life, since all tragedies bore down on him and imagined or dreamed himself in this scene. The image of Joseph resembles somewhat Titus, but Titus would marry only much later, in 1668, to die six months later and only a year or so before Rembrandt’s own death.

The Casa Bartholdy Frescoes

Joseph recognised by his Brothers

Peter von Cornelius (1783-1867). Nationalgalerie. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Preussischer Kulturbesitz – Berlin. Around 1816-1817.

Of Peter von Cornelius:
Joseph explains Pharaoh’s Dreams. 1816-1817.
Joseph reveals himself to his Brothers. 1816-1817.
Friedrich Overbeck (1789-1869)
The seven Bad Years (lunette). 1816.
Joseph sold by his Brothers. 1817

Of Wilhelm Schadow (1788-1862):
Joseph’s Lamentation. 1816-1817.
Joseph in Prison. 1817.

Of Philipp Veit (1793-1877):
Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife. 1816.
The seven Years of Abundance (lunette). 1817.

The Borgherini panels were a landmark of late Renaissance painting. They inspired artists of later periods than Breenbergh. The fame of the Borgherini panels echoed throughout the centuries. Their images stayed in the minds of artists. In 1810 a group of German and Austrian painters left the town where they had just founded yet another Guild of Saint Lucas, a ‘Lukasbund’. They left Vienna, Austria’s capital, for Rome. They lived in community in the ancient abbey of Saint Isidore, now secularised. Johann Friedrich Overbeck (1789-1869) and Franz Pforr (1788-1812) were the leaders. Their companions, some of whom came to Saint Isidore years after, included , Peter von Cornelius (1783-1867), Wilhelm von Schadow (1788-1862), Joseph Führich (1800-1876), Johann and Philipp Veit (1793-1877), Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872) and Ferdinand and Friedrich Olivier (1791-1859). They took to wearing their hair long and separated in the middle, as they had seen in old pictures of Jesus. So the Romans quickly called them the ‘Nazarenes’ and that is the name by which their school is now known in the history of art.

The Nazarenes were romantics. They were very much under the influence of the first German romantic landscape painters like Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) and Philipp Otto Runge (1777-1810). But they did not want to seek their spiritual renewal in the contemplation of nature or in the landscapes of the creation. They went to Rome not to revive Classicism but in a return to the Christian traditions of the Middle Age and the Renaissance. Overbeck wanted to renew fresco painting and he admired the transcendental images of Fra Angelico and Pietro Perugino. The Nazarenes made only few great and lasting realisations in fresco. One of those was the decoration of the Palazzo Zuccari in Rome. This was in 1816-1817 the residence of the German Consul General, the Prussian General Jacob Salomon Bartholdy. Bartholdy ordered the Lukasbund painters to decorate his residence with frescoes. The Palazzo Zuccari was on the Piazza Trinita de’ Monti in Rome, now the Bibliotheca Hertziana. The Consul-general wanted to help the German painters in Rome. Several artists were invited to participate in the works: Peter Cornelius, Wilhelm Schadow and Philipp Veit, to whom also later came Friedrich Overbeck.

Peter von Cornelius and his friends decorated a room of the Casa Bartholdy. Von Cornelius was an intellectual who knew the force of references and symbols and he thought maybe in a mystical way that he could be linked spiritually to the Borgherini artists. He decorated the room with frescoes of the life of Joseph the Egyptian. Peter Cornelius painted two panels: ‘Joseph explains Pharaoh’s Dreams’ and ‘Joseph reveals himself to his Brothers’. Wilhelm Schadow made ‘Joseph’s Lamentations’ and ‘Joseph in Prison’. Friedrich Overbeck painted ‘Joseph sold by his Brothers’ and ‘The seven Meagre Years’. Veit made ‘Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife’ and ‘The seven Years of Abundance’. Philipp Veit started to work in September 1816 and the frescoes were completed about a year later. The painters did not work on their scenes in the chronological order of the story of Joseph as told in the bible. Overbeck should have first worked on the selling of Joseph by his brothers. Then Schadow should have painted Jacob’s laments and Joseph in prison, followed by Veit’s Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. Peter Cornelius should then have painted the two last scenes. The lunettes could have been painted at any point in time. As it happened, Veit started first.

The hall with the frescoes was impressive and became rapidly famous, as once the rooms of the Borgherini must have been. Jacob Salomon Bartholdy died in 1825 and the palace was rented to several people. German officials urged to bring the frescoes back to Germany. Only in 1885, on orders of the Emperor Wilhelm I, an Italian fresco specialist was commissioned to detach the paintings from the walls of the Palazzo Zuccari. In 1887 the paintings were brought by train from Rome to Berlin. They were presented already in 1888 in the new German national Gallery.

The National Gallery was Berlin’s museum dedicated to German painting of the art of the nineteenth century. It was then the museum of contemporary art, since the building of the museum had started in 1865 and was finished in 1876. Germany had then been united from the many smaller regional states and the fewer larger states like Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and Württemberg, under Emperor Wilhelm I and his chancellor Count von Bismarck. The National Gallery was an imposing mausoleum to German art, built on Berlin’s Museum Insel, an island of museums formed by arms of the rivers and canal of Berlin and on which stood already since 1830 the Museum of Ancient Arts. The same museum complex also comprised the New Museum, in which were housed the archaeological collections, and that since 1857. The basis of the National Gallery were the paintings collected by the banker and Consul Joachim Heinrich Wilhelm Wagener, and offered to him in 1859 to the Prussian Crown Prince and future King of Prussia.

Von Cornelius painted Joseph and in doing so joined a tradition that had reached its fame with the Borgherini rooms. This linking with Christian Catholic tradition of the Renaissance was one of the main features of the aspiration of the Nazarenes. Van Cornelius also would reach fame by these frescoes. His paintings and daring echoed back to Germany. He was called to Munich and would work there for Ludwig I, King of Bavaria. Later still, from 1840 on, he would realise the plans for the Camposanto of Berlin and stay in this city until his death, a renowned and recognised artist in his country G68 . Cornelius was invited to Berlin by Prussia’s King Friedrich Wilhelm IV.

Cornelius died in 1867, so he could not see the return of the Casa Bartholdy frescoes in the National Gallery, brought back by the Museum’s Director Max Jordan. The frescoes are all painted in the same style, which now would be called typical for the whole Nazarene movement. The paintings are very narrative, literary in style. They tell a story in a simple, clear, straightforward way as one could expect from medieval pictures. The scenes comprise various figures, which are shown in well-delineated forms, crisp colours, and in areas of just one hue, whereby that hue is varied only slightly in tone for shadowing. Peter Cornelius’ pictures are the most monumental in concept, even though they still are also very narrative. Friedrich Overbeck’s scenes are the clearest, crisp and fine. Wilhelm Schadow’s frescoes are the most Baroque, in which emotions are shown more ostentatiously than in the other pictures. Philipp Veit made the more intimate scenes of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, the fresco with the fewest personages and he drew his figures closer to the viewer than the other artists. But it is remarkable how on a work on which so many artists co-operated the unity of depiction could be so well preserved. The frescoes were painted in the somewhat chalky colours typical for early Renaissance frescoes. The painters must have agreed on the schemes and colour hues before embarking on the work.

In Cornelius’ ‘Joseph recognised by his Brothers’ we find on the left a scene as we have admired already in Pontormo and del Sarto. Joseph is standing. His brothers surround him. All brothers kneel before Joseph, the Egyptian dignitary. One of the elder brothers kisses Joseph’s hand. Joseph tenderly kisses the young Benjamin. To the right von Cornelius painted Egyptian soldiers and also a shepherd. The shepherd holds the Israelian shepherd’s staff. Egyptians and Hebrews stand in peace. Von Cornelius created much depth in his picture. He did this first by drawing a checker pattern of tiles on the ground so that perspective lines are clear and enhanced, and recede together to a distant invisible point. These strict lines give an impression of austerity and coldness and this feeling contrasts with the fluid curves of the figures. The lines underscore the static setting but all figures form a scene where motion is everywhere. Then von Cornelius made the perspective lead to an open courtyard of classic Roman style. Where have we seen these images? The temple part of open temple grounds is of Pietro Perugino and Granacci. The checker pattern refers to Piero della Francesca’s ‘Flagellation’. The long, broad and white cloak of Joseph is a reference in its own right. Here we look at Giotto’s image of the Judas kiss in the Arena Chapel of Padua. Peter von Cornelius linked his decoration of Joseph in this way to the great Tuscan artists of the Renaissance.

The genuine emotions of a romantic artist are in this painting. Emotion is in the embrace of Joseph and Benjamin. Contrary to the Judas kiss, this scene is a happy reunion. Von Cornelius combined romantic emotion of the hearth nicely with the Florentine straight lines and the ethereal Perugino images to a mystical effect. There is feeling and classic restraint in a rare combination in von Cornelius’ Joseph recognised by his Brothers’, one of the ultimate aims of many a great artist. Von Cornelius thus in a worthy manner continued and perfected the tradition of the Borgherini panels.

The choice of the themes from the life of Joseph the Egyptian came natural to the Nazarenes. They were Catholic and had a program of pictures on Christian themes. They painted in a style that was inspired by the renaissance artists. They may have known the Borgherini panels, and they certainly knew the parallels made between the lives of Jesus and of Joseph, which were common themes in the Renaissance. The depiction of Joseph’s life was sweeter and less cruel than many of the scenes of Jesus’s Passion, so could be more appropriate for a waiting room of the German Consul-General. The stories of Joseph’s imprisonment, his miraculous deliverance ad rise to glory, and especially the moment when Joseph reveals himself to his bothers, were eminently Romantic.

Peter Cornelius arrived in Rome in 1811 and he appealed for membership of the Nazarene group at that time. Friedrich Overbeck and Franz Pforr had founded in Vienna, where they had both been students at the Academy, with a few friends the Lukasbund. The first Lukasbund members were Overbeck and Pforr, Joseph Wintergerst (1783-1867) and a few others. Overbeck and Pforr and some of their friends travelled to Rome in 1810 and soon settled in the abbey of San Isidoro. Franz Pforr died young, just two years after their arrival in Rome. Wilhelm Schadow also came to Rome in 1810 and joined the group. Philipp Veit arrived later, only in 1815. Schadow came from a famous German family of artists. His father was Johann Gottfried Schadow, a very famous sculptor and Director of the Berlin Academy of Art. His brother Ridolfo Schadow was equally a known sculptor, who worked with his father. The Nazarenes had contacts with other German and Austrian painters in Rome and in their homelands. These gravitated around their group: Carl Philipp Fohr (1795-1818), Theodor Hildebrandt (1804-1874), Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872) (but Schnorr fell out with the Nazarenes, exasperated by their catholic zeal), Joseph Anton Koch (1768-1839), Ferdinand Olivier (1785-1841) and Johann Anton Ramboux (1790-1866). The Consul-General Bartholdy praised much the young painters. He had them made drawings of their paintings and sent these with recommendations to the Prussian King.

The Nazarene painters became part of the German establishment in the arts. They also were Catholics. Overbeck had been a Protestant from the free town of Lübeck, but he converted to Catholicism in 1813. Cornelius, Schadow and Veit were Prussians. Cornelius and Schadow were knighted so that their names became von Cornelius and von Schadow. Von Schadow became a Professor at the Academy of Berlin, then Director of the Academy of Düsseldorf. Peter von Cornelius was called to Bavaria to paint the walls of the new Glyptotek of Munich. Then he became Director of the Academy of Düsseldorf and afterwards he was called back to Berlin by the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. Philipp Veit became Director of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut of Frankfurt. Friedrich Overbeck was the only one to stay and die in Rome. Schnorr von Carolsfeld was called by the Bavarian King Ludwig I to decorate his residence and he became a Professor at the Academy of Munich. Joseph Wintergerst became a Professor at the Academy of Düsseldorf.

Epilogue - Joseph’s Death

Jacob’s sons did what their father had asked them. Joseph buried his father and with him went all Pharaoh’s officials, the dignitaries of his palace and all the dignitaries of Egypt. They held a great mourning in Canaan at Jacob’s burial place. They put Jacob in the cave of Machpelah. Then Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all that had come up with him to bury his father.

Joseph stayed in Egypt with his father’s families. He lived a hundred and ten years. He saw the third generation of Ephraim’s and of Manasseh ‘s lines. When Joseph was about to die he made Israel’s sons swear an oath, saying, ‘When God remembers you with kindness, be sure to take my bones away from here and take them back to Canaan.’

When Joseph died he was embalmed and laid in a coffin in Egypt.

With the death of Joseph ends the Book of Genesis. We have seen throughout this text scenes of the Creation of the Universe and of the lives of the patriarchs. We started our themes with the Garden of Eden and we saw various paintings of landscapes for the artists used Genesis themes often as an occasion to show marvellous landscapes. We saw how Jen Brueghel and Paul Bril excelled in this art and how Cardinal Federico Borromeo of Milan appreciated their views. The Hebrew nomads of Genesis were shepherds and they wandered through the land with their herds. We saw how painters used also these details to make pictures in which animals were splendidly drawn. We saw such pictures of Jacopo Bassano and of Sébastien Bourdon. First of all however, the Book of Genesis is a set of stories of grand characters that were larger than nature, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The artists of the seventeenth century showed these men and let us understand in images something of the grandeur of the figures and of their feeling as the Bible not always did.

The Bible does not just talk of the men but also of the women. Lot'’ daughters, Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah are as formidable characters and leaders as the patriarchs. These women also appear powerfully in many pictures.

Finally, we saw how Genesis was often also not taken up in its particular scenes but as a whole. The anonymous artists of the abbey of Saint Savin painted the whole nave of their church with scenes from Genesis and so did Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Thus, when Michelangelo painted Genesis in the Sistine Chapel, he merely continued a tradition that existed in the Roman churches from before the tenth century.

Such traditions in Christian painting of Europe lasted as artists admired and honoured the work of their predecessors. This was proven at its clearest in the scenes from the life of Joseph the Egyptian. We saw scenes from Joseph in Saint Savin, but also in the Borgherini panels and in the mater pictures of Bartholomeus Breenbergh and Peter von Cornelius.

The stories from Genesis have become so well known and referenced as to be eternal myths. These themes inspired the artists. The artists have not just taken up the themes to show aesthetical, intriguing or decorative pictures. The artists delved into the spirituality of the characters or of the landscapes in which they set their figures. Art is a spiritual work, the scenes come from out of the souls of the greatest artists and we feel when viewing the pictures how the artists brought their own spirituality, their own soul and profound reflections on the bible characters into their images.

Other paintings:

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