Overview

For this depiction of Joseph spurning the advances of his Egyptian employer's wife, as recounted in the Book of Genesis, Guercino chose a three-quarter length format that presses the life-sized figures close to the spectator. He has filled the scene with the bed -- all rumpled sheets and opulent curtains. As the temptress reaches for the strong and handsome Joseph, he struggles vigorously to extricate himself. But she holds tight to the vivid blue cloak and sets Joseph spinning like a top out of his garment. In panic, he turns his imploring eyes heavenward, seeming to realize that even if he escapes with his virtue unscathed, he is helplessly ensnared in an evil plot; Potiphar's wife, bejeweled and confident, will later use the cloak to support her denunciation of Joseph as the aggressor.

With a delicate play of light on the seductress' profile, the artist shows the very moment of lust shading into treachery. If Guercino's narration is clear and eloquent, his presentation of the moral implications is more subtle: as this woman's beauty conceals her wickedness, so the visual lushness of Guercino's painting disguises a serious lesson about righteous conduct.

Inscription

Marks and Labels

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Provenance

Commissioned by Aurelio Zaneletti [or Zanoletti] of Reggio in 1649.[1] (Samuel Woodburn, 1820-1823).[2] Charles Stewart, 3d marquess of Londonderry [1778-1854], London, by 1833;[3] by descent to Alexander Charles Robert Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 9th marquess of Londonderry [b. 1937], Wynyard Park;[4] purchased 1986 by NGA.

Exhibition History

1986
The Age of Correggio and the Carracci: Emilian Painting of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, shown only at National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986-1987, not in cat.
1991
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Il Guercino 1591-1666, Museo Civico Archeologico, Bologna, 1991, no. 122, color repro.
1991
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Il Guercino 1591-1666, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, 1991-1992, no. 65, color repro.
1992
Guercino: Master Painter of the Baroque, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1992, no. 47, color repro.
1996
Obras Maestras de la National Gallery of Art de Washington, Museo Nacional de AntropologĂ­a, Mexico City, 1996-1997, unnumbered catalogue, 64-65, color repro.
1999
Saints & Sinners: Caravaggio & the Baroque Image, McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, 1999, pl. 25.
1999
Seeing Double: Two Versions of Guercino's 'Joseph and Potiphar's Wife', Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville, 1999, fig. 6.

Bibliography

1841
Malvasia, Carlo Cesare. Felsina Pittrice. Vite de' Pittori Bolognesi con aggiunte correzioni e note inedite dell'autore di Giampietro Zanotti e di altri scrittori. 2 vols. Bologna, 1974: 267, 329-330 (originally published 1678).
1968
Mahon, Denis. Il Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1591-1666: Catalogo critico dei dipinti). Exh. cat. Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio, Bologna, 1968: 188.
1982
Artioli, Nerio, and Elio Monducci, with Denis Mahon. Dipinti "reggiani" del Bonone e del Guercino. Exh. cat. Basilica della B.V. della Ghiara, Reggio Emilia, 1982: 108-110, cat. 20-21 (not exhibited).
1986
Mahon, Denis, in The Age of Correggio and the Carracci. Exh. cat. Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Washington, D.C., 1986: 481, n. 2.
1988
Salerno, Luigi. I dipinti del Guercino. Rome, 1988: 332-333, no. 261-262, color repro.
1989
Mahon, Denis, and Nicholas Turner. The Drawings of Guercino in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle. Cambridge, 1989: 192, no. 657.
1989
Willette, Thomas. "Guercino's Paintings of 'Joseph with the Wife of Potiphar' and 'Amnon and Tamar,' and Research on Massimo Stanzione." Center 9: Research Reports and Record of Activities. Washington, D.C., 1989: 97-98.
1991
Mazza, Angelo. La collezione dei dipinti antichi della Cassa di Risparmio di Cesena. Bologna, 1991: 147.
1991
Russell, Francis. "Guercino in England." In Guercino in Britain. Paintings from British Collections. Exh. cat. National Gallery, London. The Burlington Magazine 133, suppl. London, 1991: 10, figs. 10-11.
1991
Stone, David. Guercino: catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1991: 255-257, no. 246, color repro.
1991
Stone, David. Guercino, Master Draftsman. Works from North American Collections. Exh. cat. Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bologna, 1991: 74-76, figs. 29b-c; 222.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 111, repro. (not in 1995 rev. ed.).
1996
De Grazia, Diane, and Eric Garberson, with Edgar Peters Bowron, Peter M. Lukehart, and Mitchell Merling. Italian Paintings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 162-170, color repro. 165.
1999
Seeing Double: Two Versions of Guercino's 'Joseph and Potiphar's Wife'. Exh. cat. Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville, 1999: fig. 6, color repro.
2005
Fahy, Everett, ed. The Wrightsman Pictures. New Haven, 2005: 142, under cat. 39, fig. 2.

Technical Summary

The tacking margins have been opened and incorporated into the present picture surface. Scattered paint losses have been inpainted throughout. Extensive abrasion is located in the background drapery, in the blue coat, and in the flesh tones. The paint used for the background has altered, changing the contrast between background and foreground. Discolored varnish was removed and the painting was restored by Michael Swicklik in 1986.

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