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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Anonymous Artist, Rembrandt van Rijn/Joseph Accused by Potiphar's Wife/1655,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, http://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/86 (accessed August 22, 2014).

 

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Overview

After learning the fundamentals of drawing and painting in his native Leiden, Rembrandt van Rijn went to Amsterdam in 1624 to study for six months with Pieter Lastman (1583–1633), a famous history painter. Upon completion of his training Rembrandt returned to Leiden. Around 1632 he moved to Amsterdam, quickly establishing himself as the town’s leading artist, specializing in history paintings and portraiture. He received many commissions and attracted a number of students who came to learn his method of painting.

In the seventeenth century, history painting—the depiction of biblical, mythological, and allegorical scenes—was considered the pinnacle of artistic expression. Because such paintings required great imagination and dealt with fundamental moral and ethical issues, theorists ranked history painting before other subjects such as landscape, portraiture, and still life.

The story of Joseph fascinated Rembrandt, who made numerous drawings, prints, and paintings of this Old Testament figure. This particular work, however, was executed by one of Rembrandt’s workshop assistants after the master himself had determined the subject matter and composition. In this scene from the book of Genesis, chapter 39, Potiphar's wife, having failed to seduce Joseph, falsely accuses him of trying to violate her. Speaking to Potiphar, the wife points to the red robe Joseph left behind when he ran from her clutches, wickedly using the presence of the garment as evidence to support her accusation. In the biblical account, Joseph was not present, but the artist added poignancy to his visualization of the story by inserting Joseph on the far side of the bed. Rembrandt’s preoccupation with the theme of false accusation probably stemmed from the drawn-out lawsuit against him by Geertje Dirckx, a former companion, who claimed that he had promised to marry her.

Entry

This painting depicts an episode in the life of Joseph described in the Book of Genesis, chapter 39. Joseph, who had been sold to Potiphar, an officer of the pharaoh, came to be trusted and honored in Potiphar’s household. He was, however, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, Iempsar, of trying to violate her, after her attempts at seduction had failed. When he fled from her, she held on to his robe and eventually used it as evidence against him. In this painting Iempsar recounts her tale to Potiphar as she gestures toward Joseph’s red robe draped over the bedpost. While Potiphar listens intently to the story, Joseph, dressed in a long brown tunic and with the keys denoting his household responsibilities hanging from his belt, stands serenely on the far side of the bed.

The story of Joseph must have fascinated Rembrandt, for he devoted a large number of drawings, prints, and paintings to the life of this Old Testament figure. Although his primary source of inspiration was undoubtedly the Bible, he also drew upon other literary traditions to amplify his understanding of the biblical text. Tümpel has argued that, in particular, Flavius Josephus’ Of the Antiquities of the Jews was extremely important for Rembrandt’s interpretations of Old Testament scenes.[1] Rembrandt owned an expensive German edition of Flavius Josephus, which is listed in the 1656 inventory of his possessions, the year after the execution of this painting.[2] Tümpel sees the pronounced focus on the bed in Joseph Accused by Potiphar’s Wife as a direct response on Rembrandt’s part to the emphasis placed on the bed in Josephus’ account of this scene. In the text found in Of the Antiquities of the Jews, Potiphar’s wife accuses Joseph with the following words: “O husband, said she, mayst thou not live a day longer, if thou dost not punish the wicked slave, who has desired to defile thy bed.”[3]

In one important respect the confrontation depicted in this painting varies from both Josephus’ account and the biblical text: all three protagonists are present at the time of the accusation. In neither account is Joseph’s presence mentioned. Rembrandt often took such liberties with biblical texts to enhance the emotional poignancy of the scene.[4] Here the setting has been carefully conceived to reinforce the essential drama of the accusation. Potiphar’s wife is the main protagonist, for it is around her accusation that the drama revolves. Strongly lit and centrally placed, she gestures across the white sheets of the bed to Joseph’s red robe as she turns toward her husband to recount her story. At the same time she brings her left hand to her chest, holding up her chemise in a gesture that implies at once innocence and modesty. On the far side of the expansive bed, Joseph appears isolated and vulnerable as he stares toward the red robe and involuntarily raises his hand in protest to Iempsar’s accusation. Potiphar, dressed in a turban and an oriental costume, leans toward Iempsar, resting his hand on the back of her chair and listening attentively. While he has directed his gaze at Joseph’s robe, his relaxed pose makes it apparent that he has not yet fully grasped the import of her story.

It is difficult to determine whether Rembrandt invented this compositional concept purely from his own imagination or derived it from a pictorial or theoretical source. As was first mentioned by Bauch, Jan Pynas (c. 1581–1631) included Joseph in his 1629 depiction of the same scene, but the compositional connections are not strong.[5] Pynas does not include the bed and depicts a member of Potiphar’s household holding Joseph. A more probable source of inspiration is Joost van den Vondel’s play Joseph in Egypten, first performed in 1639/1640, in which all three protagonists appear on the stage at the time of Iempsar’s accusation.[6] Schwartz, who has also emphasized this connection with Vondel’s play, has further noted that the production held in 1655 was a particular success, with a woman in the role of Iempsar.[7] Even though Joseph appears onstage at the end of Iempsar’s accusation rather than at the beginning, as would seem to be the case in the painting, the theatrical character of the image suggests that the play may have been an important source of inspiration for this work. The theme of false accusation also arises in Andrea Mantegna’s drawing Calumny of Apelles, which Rembrandt owned and copied at about this time.[8]

There seems good reason, however, to believe that the choice of subject matter was not entirely the result of external influences. The decision to paint in 1655 this image of false accusation speaks too closely to Rembrandt’s personal circumstances to be entirely coincidental. Rembrandt may have been drawn to the subject because he was beset at this time by accusations from a woman scorned, his former companion Geertje Dirckx. In 1649 she sued Rembrandt for breach of promise, a suit that was followed by years of litigation.[9]

Complicating any assessment of this work, however, is the existence of a comparable Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife painting in Berlin that is also signed Rembrandt and dated 1655 [fig. 1]. In this version the three protagonists are placed in relatively the same position, although the drama here is expressed at a higher pitch. Joseph responds vigorously to Iempsar’s accusation by looking upward and raising his left hand near his head. Iempsar accuses Joseph directly rather than indirectly through the medium of the discarded robe. As though to emphasize her disdain for Joseph she steps on the robe as it lies strewn over a step on the floor. Her body language is more active than in the Washington version: she turns at an angle in her chair, she has her legs crossed, and her facial expression seems quite agitated. Whereas the Iempsar of the Washington painting, dressed in jewelry and an ermine-lined orange robe, appears composed, the Iempsar in the Berlin version seems more disheveled: she wears no jewelry, and the richly brocaded surface of her robe is broken by numerous folds. Finally, the surface of the Berlin version is further enlivened by the elaborate gilded bedpost near Joseph.

The date inscribed on Joseph Accused by Potiphar’s Wife was a matter of great dispute in the early literature on the painting. Waagen in 1864 read the date of the Washington painting (when it was in the Hermitage) as 1657.[10] The Hermitage catalog of 1870, however, interpreted the date as reading 1654, which would mean that this version predated the one presently in Berlin. Bode in 1883 and again in 1901 also agreed that the Hermitage version was originally dated 1654, but he believed that Rembrandt changed the “4” to a “5” when he reworked the painting the following year.[11] Despite the opinions of Michel and later Somof, in his 1901 catalog of the Hermitage paintings, that the date should read 1655 and that the so-called 4 was a misreading due to accidental effects on the surface, Bode’s suggestion continued to be accepted by most scholars until Bredius’ 1935 catalog of Rembrandt paintings.[12]

The subtle yet profound differences in concept in the Washington and Berlin paintings were, as a consequence of this confusion about the date, explained in relation to Rembrandt’s chronological evolution. As late as the 1970s, for example, Kauffmann argued that the earlier double-dating hypothesis should not be ignored in considering which of these two paintings came first. He felt that it would have been unlikely for Rembrandt to have painted the emotionally charged Berlin version and then to have proceeded to the less dramatic, and to his mind, less successful Washington version.[13]

Opinions about the relative success of the two compositions that Kauffmann raised had concerned art historians ever since the late nineteenth century. Most argued that the Berlin version, in Michel’s words, was “not only more dramatic in composition . . . , [but] more brilliant in colour, and in better condition” than the Hermitage [Washington] example.[14] Bode, who considered the Berlin version to be later, saw in it “slight, but essentially advantageous alterations,” but felt that, in the end, both “pictures are of the highest excellence in such qualities as the choice of the colours, splendour of harmony, and vigour of illumination.”[15] Neumann, in 1905, preferred the Berlin version, as later did Rosenberg, who wrote that it was “superior to the one in Washington, its general effect being both richer and more striking.”[16] The Washington painting, however, has had its defenders. In 1936, the year after the painting had been exhibited at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the museum’s director, Frederik Schmidt-Degener, was reported to have remarked that the painting was “infinitely superior to the Berlin picture” and to have begun even to “doubt the latter as being altogether by Rembrandt.”[17] Benesch wrote in 1943 that the Washington version “surpasses that of Berlin in depth of psychical expression. But the Berlin version seems to be a step further in pictorial refinement, so we may regard it as the later.”[18]

Since the 1960s, however, the general consensus has been not only that the Berlin version is superior but also that the Washington painting is a workshop replica. This opinion was first expressed in 1966 when Bauch proposed that the comparatively muted depiction of the scene in the Washington painting was the creation of a good student who was following the Berlin example. He argued as well that Rembrandt subsequently reworked the painting and then signed it.[19] Gerson allowed that Bauch might be proved correct in his assessment, but stressed that the quality of the picture was difficult to assess because of the heavy varnish and “curious ‘craquelure’” that covered the surface.[20] While Schwartz accepted both versions as by Rembrandt, Tümpel removed the Washington painting from Rembrandt’s oeuvre, calling it “nur eine schwachere Werkstattwiederholung” (merely a weak workshop copy).[21]

Although the conservation treatment of the painting in 1979–1980 did not resolve issues of chronology and date, the removal of several layers of pigmented varnish with pronounced craquelure that had obscured the image did allow a clearer assessment of the pictorial qualities of the Washington version.[22] Two significant pentimenti were revealed, changes that were intended to strengthen the narrative [fig. 2]. Iempsar originally gestured toward Joseph’s robe with her fingers cupped. Only later was the index finger extended to direct the eye’s attention to this significant item of clothing. At the same time the robe itself was enlarged to give it more presence within the composition.

The treatment confirmed that the surface had suffered from numerous small losses and general abrasion, particularly in the blue drapes behind the bed. In part the damages may have resulted when the painting was transferred from an old canvas to a new one by E. Sivers in 1854 in Saint Petersburg.[23] Because of the transfer, much information about ground layers and paint structure has been irretrievably lost. Nevertheless, X-radiographs [see X-radiography] do reveal that the original support consisted of three pieces of canvas: a large center piece with a 6 cm strip along the left side and a 6 cm strip across the bottom [fig. 3].[24] Evidence of the seams along these additions is also seen in the pattern of losses on the surface of the painting, which are easily identifiable in a photograph taken during restoration.

Technical examinations of the available ground layers and paint provide no evidence to suggest that these strips were later additions, yet it is most unlikely that the composition was originally conceived on a support with this unusual configuration. The decision thus must have been made during the course of execution that the composition should be enlarged in the foreground and to the left of Joseph. Perhaps it was thought that the floor did not recede properly under the feet of Potiphar’s wife and that Joseph appeared too cramped on the far side of the bed. Whatever the reasons for the additions, the result is that the figures are set back more into space and the dim half-lights of the bedchamber take on a greater atmospheric role in the presentation of the drama. They seem, in fact, to reinforce the subtle, understated interpretation of the accusation by Potiphar’s wife that is depicted.

Whether or not the change in the shape of the composition provides evidence about the chronological relationship of the Washington and Berlin versions is difficult to determine. The Washington painting, before the strips were added to the left side and the bottom, measured approximately 98.8 x 90.6 cm, whereas the Berlin canvas measures 113.5 x 90 cm. Thus the widths of the two paintings appear to have been originally the same although the vertical dimensions differ.[25] Before the strip was added to the left of the Washington support Joseph would have been quite near the left edge, rather as he is in the Berlin painting. The addition along the bottom coincides almost exactly to the placement of the step in the Berlin painting, a device that is effectively used to place the figures back in space.[26] On the one hand, it would seem illogical, given the similarity in the positions of Joseph in the original composition and in the Berlin painting, to assume that the Washington painting, with its additions, preceded the Berlin version; on the other hand, it could also be argued that the change in composition along the bottom edge should not have been necessary had the Berlin painting been available as a point of reference. The most plausible conclusion appears to be that the paintings were being conceived simultaneously and that arguments about chronological precedence are essentially irrelevant to the compositional solutions arrived at in these works. Indeed, while these paintings obviously have many similarities, each is also consistent unto itself, not only in the way the story is presented but also in the textures, colors, and painting techniques used to characterize the scene.[27]

Should the two paintings have been created at more or less the same time, one must wonder whether it would have been likely for Rembrandt to have executed both works. He may have done so to demonstrate how, with essentially the same composition, one could render quite disparate representations of the scene. More likely, however, is that two different artists painted these works. Indeed, close comparisons of the painting techniques in these works demonstrate distinct approaches to modeling. An excellent point of comparison is the wife’s left hand, which in the Washington version is softly modeled with extended strokes of the brush, while in the Berlin version it is more boldly formed with a rougher, more broken technique. Similar comparisons can be made in the modeling of her face and robes.

Comparisons indicate that a more adept hand executed the Berlin version. With a close examination of technique in the Washington painting comes an awareness that the anatomical forms, the hand and eyes, for example, and the folds in the robes are, in fact, not modeled with a convincing sense of three-dimensional form.[28] This weakness is also evident in the figures of Potiphar and Joseph. Although Joseph’s attenuated form is sympathetically rendered, it remains quite flat. In the end, despite the many Rembrandtesque characteristics of this work, one must conclude that Rembrandt did not execute it. There is also no evidence that he reworked the painting, as proposed by Bauch, although he may well have suggested the additions and the change in the wife’s gesture. Whether or not Rembrandt was responsible for the Berlin version is a different matter. Perhaps he was, but I believe that this work was executed by an assistant, with both artists working from a common source.[29] At the very least it would seem that models, assuming the poses of the protagonists, must have been arranged in the studio. In the Washington painting the model for Joseph was almost certainly Titus, Rembrandt’s fourteen-year-old son [fig. 4].

Willem Drost (Dutch, active c. 1650 - active 1655) and Constantijn van Renesse (Dutch, 1626 - 1680) are two artists capable of painting such sensitive religious images. Van Renesse’s style is indeed rather close to that seen in the Washington Joseph Accused by Potiphar’s Wife. [30] His forms tend to lack strong three-dimensional characterization, and his figures are often attenuated in a manner quite similar to that of Joseph in his Good Samaritan in the Louvre, Paris ([fig. 5], also mentioned in The Descent from the Cross). Nevertheless, it is very possible that Van Renesse had already left Rembrandt’s workshop by 1654, for in that year he was named secretary of the city of Eindhoven. Too little, however, is known of the character of Rembrandt’s workshop in 1655 to assess what type of working arrangements actually existed at that time. Van de Wetering has argued that Rembrandt's paintings often served as prototypes for derivative works painted by his students, which he has termed “satellite” paintings. He has cited the Berlin painting (which he argues was painted primarily by Rembrandt) and the Washington version of Joseph and Potiphar's Wife (which he ascribes to a member of Rembrandt's workshop) as prime examples of this workshop practice.[31] Whichever Rembrandt pupil actually executed this work, it does seem clear that, at the very least, the choice of subject and composition was determined by the master himself.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014

Inscription

lower right: Rembrandt. f.1655.

  • Inscription

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Gerard Hoet, Jr. [d.1760], The Hague; (his sale, by Arnoldus Franken, The Hague, 25-26 August 1760, no. 44).[1] Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky [1710-1775], Berlin; acquired in 1763 by Catherine II, empress of Russia [1729-1796], Saint Petersburg; Imperial Hermitage Gallery, Saint Petersburg; sold January 1931, as a painting by Rembrandt, through (Matthiesen Gallery, Berlin, P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London, and M. Knoedler & Co., New York) to Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington; deeded 1 May 1937 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh;[2] gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1933
Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Rembrandt, Knoedler Galleries, New York, 1933, no. 10.
1934
A Century of Progress: Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1934, no. 105, repro.
1935
Rembrandt Tentoonstelling, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1935, no. 17.
1969
Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art [Commemorating the Tercentenary of the Artist's Death], National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, no. 13, repro.
1980
Gods, Saints & Heroes: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Detroit Institute of Arts; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1980-1981, no. 28, repro.
1984
In Quest of Excellence: Civic Pride, Patronage, Connoisseurship, Center for the Fine Arts, Miami, 1984, no. 52, repro.
1993
Painting the Bible in Rembrandt's Holland, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1993, no. 161, repro. (catalogue titled Rembrandt's Holland).
1994
Im Lichte Rembrandts: Das Alte Testament im Goldenen Zeitalter der niederländischen Kunst [Rembrandt and the Old Testament], Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster, 1994, no. 25, repro.
2003
Rembrandt and the Rembrandt School: The Bible, Mythology and Ancient History, The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 2003, no. 14, repro.
2006
Rembrandt : Quest of a Genius [Rembrandt - Zoektocht van een Genie] [Rembrandt - Genie auf der Suche], Museum Het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam; Kulturforum, Berlin, 2006, no. 63, repro.

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1923
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1923
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1933
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1933
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1933
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1933
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1933
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1935
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1935
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1935
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1935
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1935
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1935
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1936
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1941
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1942
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1942
National Gallery of Art. Book of illustrations. 2nd ed. Washington, 1942: no. 79, repro. 31, 240.
1943
Benesch, Otto. "The Rembrandt Paintings in the National Gallery of Art." The Art Quarterly 6, no. 1 (Winter 1943): 27, 29 fig. 8.
1948
Rosenberg, Jakob. Rembrandt. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA, 1948: 1:137.
1949
National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 85, no. 79, repro.
1954
Benesch, Otto. The Drawings of Rembrandt: A Critical and Chronological Catalogue. 6 vols. London, 1954-1957: 5(1957):277.
1954
Münz, Ludwig. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. The Library of Great Painters. New York, 1954: 114.
1960
Bauch, Kurt. Der frühe Rembrandt und seine Zeit: Studien zur geschichtlichten Bedeutung seines Frühstils. Berlin, 1960: 258 n. 96.
1960
Goldscheider, Ludwig. Rembrandt Paintings, Drawings and Etchings. London, 1960: 177, no. 85, repro.
1960
Roger-Marx, Claude. Rembrandt. Translated by W.J. Strachan and Peter Simmons. New York, 1960: 72-73, 280.
1962
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Treasures from the National Gallery of Art, New York, 1962: 98, color repro.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 182, repro.
1964
Rosenberg, Jakob. Rembrandt: Life and Work. Revised ed. Greenwich, Connecticut, 1964: 222.
1965
Krieger, Peter. "Die Berliner Rembrandt-Sammlung." Speculum Artis 17 (February 1965): 14.
1965
National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 109.
1966
Bauch, Kurt. Rembrandt Gemälde. Berlin, 1966: 3, no. 33, repro.
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1: 230, color repro., as by Rembrandt.
1967
Regteren Altena, J.Q. van. "Review of Bauch 1966." Oud Holland 82 (1967): 69-71.
1968
Gerson, Horst. Rembrandt Paintings. Amsterdam, 1968: 114, 116, 362-363, repro., 499.
1968
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 96, no. 79, repro.
1969
Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings. Revised by Horst Gerson. 3rd ed. London, 1969: repro. 432, 601, no. 523.
1969
National Gallery of Art. Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art: Commemorating the tercentenary of the artist's death. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1969: 6, 23, no. 13, repro.
1970
Benesch, Otto. Otto Benesch Collected Writings. 2 vols. Edited by Eva Benesch. London and New York, 1970: 1:83-100, 140-146, fig. 69.
1973
Benesch, Otto. The Drawings of Rembrandt. 6 vols. Edited by Eva Benesch. Enlarged ed. London, 1973: 5:265.
1973
Kauffmann, Hans. "Anmerkungen zu Rembrandts Potipharbildern." In Neue Beiträge zur Rembrandt-Forschung. Edited by Otto von Simson and Jan Kelch. Berlin, 1973: 50-57, fig. 14.
1973
Klessmann, Rudiger. "Zum Röntgen-Befund des Potiphar-Bildes in Berlin." In Neue Beiträge zur Rembrandt-Forschung. Edited by Otto Georg von Simson and Jan Kelch. Berlin, 1973: 44-49, fig. 14.
1974
Potterton, Homan. "'A Commonplace Practitioner in Painting and in Etching': Charles Exshaw." The Connoisseur 187 (December 1974): 273, fig. 8 (etching after the painting).
1975
National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 286, no. 79, repro.
1975
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 280, no. 371, color repro.
1976
Hoet, Gerard. Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen. 3 vols. Reprint of 1752 ed. with supplement by Pieter Terwesten, 1770. Soest, 1976: 3:225, no. 44.
1977
Bolten, J., and H. Bolten-Rempt. The Hidden Rembrandt. Translated by Danielle Adkinson. Milan and Chicago, 1977: 196, no. 437, repro.
1980
Blankert, Albert, et al. Gods, Saints, and Heroes: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Detroit Institute of Arts; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Washington, 1980: 148-149, no. 28, repro.
1984
Marck, Jan van der. In quest of excellence: civic pride, patronage, connoisseurship. Exh. cat. Center for the Fine Arts, Miami, 1984: 232, 239, no. 52, repro.
1984
Münz, Ludwig. Rembrandt. Revised ed. London, 1984: 96.
1984
Schwartz, Gary. Rembrandt: Zijn leven, zijn schilderijen. Maarssen, 1984: 272, 274-275, no. 310, repro.
1984
Tümpel, Christian. "Die Rezeption der Jüdischen Altertümer des Flavius Josephus in den holländischen Historiendarstellungen des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts." In Wort und Bild in der Niederländischen Kunst und Literatur des 16. u. 17. Jahrhunderts. Edited by H. Vekeman and J. Müller Hofstede. Erfstadt, 1984: 191, pl. 28.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 280, no. 365, color repro., as by Rembrandt van Ryn.
1985
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 330, repro.
1985
Schwartz, Gary. Rembrandt: His Life, His Paintings. New York, 1985: 173, 272, 274-275, no. 310, repro.
1986
Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Washington and Grand Rapids, 1986: 312.
1986
Tümpel, Christian. Rembrandt. Translated by Jacques and Jean Duvernet, Léon Karlson, and Patrick Grilli. Paris, 1986: repro. 279, 419, no. A2.
1991
Bal, Mieke. Reading "Rembrandt": beyond the word-image opposition. Cambridge New Art History and Criticism. Cambridge, 1991: 34-39, 43, 46-48, 105-108, 117, 123, 140, 199, 217, 405 n. 24, 451 n.13, repros. 1.2, 1.7, 3.4.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 91, 94, color repro.
1991
Tümpel, Christian. Het Oude Testament in de schilderkunst van de Gouden Eeuw. Exh. cat. Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam; Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Zwolle, 1991: 200.
1992
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 131, repro.
1993
Baron, Jean-Marie, and Pascal Bonafoux. Rembrandt, la Bible. Paris, 1993: 52-53, repro.
1993
Weyl, Martin, and Rivka Weiss-Blok, eds. Rembrandt shel Holland [Rembrandt's Holland]. Exh. cat. Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1993: 163, no. 161, repro.
1994
Tümpel, Christian. Im Lichte Rembrandts: das Alte Testament im Goldenen Zeitalter der niederländischen Kunst. Exh. cat. Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster. Zwolle, 1994: 45, 251-252, no. 25, repro.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 314-321, color repro. 315.
1997
Blankert, Albert. Rembrandt: A Genius and his Impact, Exh. cat. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Zwolle, 1997: 141, no. 16e, repro.
1998
Lindgren, Claire. "Calumny." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. Edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 1:153.
1998
Roberts, Helene E., ed. Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 1:130, 153.
2000
Il'in, Nikolas, and Natalia Semënova. Prodannye sokrovishcha Rossii [Sold Treasures of Russia]. Moscow, 2000: 118, 119, repro.
2001
Lloyd Williams, Julia. Rembrandt's Women. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh; Royal Academy of Arts, London. London, 2001: 210, fig. 146.
2003
Kofuku, Akira. Rembrandt and the Rembrandt school: the Bible, mythology and ancient history. Exh. cat. Kokuritsu Seiyo Bijutsukan, Tokyo, 2003: 84-85, no. 14, repro.
2003
Korthals Altes, Everhard. De verovering van de internationale kunstmarkt door de zeventiende-eeuwse schilderkunst: enkele studies over de verspreiding van Hollandse schilderijen in de eerste helft van de achttiende eeuw. Leiden, 2003: 152-153, repro.
2006
Rønberg, Lene Bøgh, and Eva de la Fuente Pedersen. Rembrandt?: The Master and His Workshop. Exh. cat. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, 2006: 118-120, fig. 22.
2006
Wetering, Ernst van de. "Rembrandt's Art: Attempting an Objective Evaluation." In Rembrandt: Quest of a Genius. Edited by Ernst van de Wetering. Exh. cat. Museum Het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. Zwolle, 2006: 239-244, fig. 267.
2009
Odom, Anne, and Wendy R. Salmond, eds. Treasures into Tractors: The Selling of Russia's Cultural Heritage, 1918-1938. Washington, D.C., 2009: 135 n. 62.
2011
Fiedler, Susanne, and Torsten Knuth. "Vexierbilder einer Biographie: Dr. Heinz Mansfeld (1899-1959)." Mecklenburgische Jahrbücher 126 (2011):307-308.

Technical Summary

The original fabric support, consisting of a large piece (98.8 x 90.6 cm) with strips (6 cm wide) sewn onto the left and bottom edges, was transferred by E. Sivers in Saint Petersburg in 1854 to fabric with an open-weave, gauzelike interleaf.[1] In 1935 the transfer fabric was removed and the painting relined, with the interleaf retained.[2] Sanding of the back of the original fabric during transfer removed the weave and cusping patterns and may have removed an original ground layer, if a double ground had been employed. Only a single original layer is evident, a tan ground present on the main fabric and edge strips, situated above a white ground that was presumably added during transfer.[3] A black underlayer was found beneath the figures of Joseph and the wife, and the tan ground was employed as a mid-tone in the wife’s hair.

Paint was applied in complex, thin layers of medium-rich paint, creating a heavily textured surface enriched with transparent glazes. The X-radiographs and examination with infrared reflectography at 1.1 – 1.4 microns [4] reveal changes, often visible as pentimenti, above Potiphar’s proper right wrist, in the red cape, which was extended to the right, and in the wife’s proper right sleeve and index finger. Originally, her index finger was not extended. Abrasion in the background reveals remnants of a canopy, visible with infrared reflectography, that initially was between Joseph and Potiphar.

Moderate abrasion is found in the background and in the dress of Potiphar’s wife, along with moderate-sized losses, particularly in Potiphar and the background. Losses exist on all edges and along the seams of the narrow edge strips, where the paint application is original and consistent with the handling in the larger fabric piece. The painting was treated in 1979 to remove discolored varnish and retouching.

 

[1] The information comes from an inscription on a piece of linen, which was attached to the back of the stretcher.

[2] Nothing is known about this treatment other than that the painting was relined in Amsterdam in 1935 by C. M. Jenner (an inscription in Dutch indicating this information is on the inside of the stretcher).

[3] The ground, consisting of iron oxides, Van Dyck brown, and quartz, is apparently the same on both the main fabric and the edge strips. The ground and paint were analyzed by the NGA Scientific Research department using cross-sections and X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (see reports dated April 17, 1979; April 18, 1979; August 6, 1979; and November 26, 1979, in NGA Conservation department files). The ground was further analyzed by Karin Groen using cross-sections (see Karin Groen, "Grounds in Rembrandt’s Workshop and in Paintings by his Contemporaries," in Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project,  A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 4, Self-Portraits, ed. Ernst van de Wetering [Dordrecht, 2005], 666–667).

[4] Infrared reflectography was performed with a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with a J astronomy filter.

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Joseph Accused by Potiphar's Wife
  • [fig. 1] Rembrandt van Rijn, Joseph and Potiphar's Wife, 1655, oil on canvas, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Gemäldegalerie. Photo: bpk, Berlin / Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin / Jörg P. Anders / Art Resource, NY
    Compare Image
  • [fig. 2] Detail of hand and robe, infrared reflectogram, Rembrandt Workshop, Joseph Accused by Potiphar's Wife, 1655, oil on canvas transferred to canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.79
    Compare Image
  • [fig. 3] X-radiograph composite, Rembrandt Workshop, Joseph Accused by Potiphar's Wife, 1655, oil on canvas transferred to canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.79
    Compare Image
  • [fig. 4] Rembrandt van Rijn, Titus at His Desk, 1655, oil on canvas, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Photo: Studio Tromp, Rotterdam
    Compare Image
  • [fig. 5] Constantijn van Renesse, The Good Samaritan, 1648, oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Photo: RMN / Art Resource, NY. Photographer: Jean-Gilles Berizzi
    Compare Image
  • [1]

    Christian Tümpel in H. Vekeman and J. Müller Hofstede, eds., Wort und Bild in der niederländischen Kunst und Literatur des 16. u. 17. Jahrhunderts (Erfstadt, 1984), 173–204, and reissued in an abbreviated form in Christian Tümpel and Jacqueline Boonen, Het Oude Testament in de schilderkunst van de Gouden Eeuw (Zwolle, Amsterdam, and Jerusalem, 1991), 194–206. Flavius Josephus, who was born in Jerusalem shortly after Christ’s death, based his text not only on the Old Testament but also on Jewish legends and antique writers. His work was translated into many languages and widely distributed.

  • [2]

    Walter L. Strauss and Marjon van der Meulen, The Rembrandt Documents (New York, 1979), 379, no. 284: “Een hoogduijtsche Flavio Fevus gestoffeert met figueren van Tobias Timmerman” (a ‘Flavius Josephus’ in High German profusely illustrated by Tobias Stimmer).

  • [3]

    Flavius Josephus, Of the Antiquities of the Jews, book 2, chapter 4, section 5, in The Genuine Works of Flavius Josephus, trans. William Whiston, 4 vols. (London, 1755), 1:82–83.

  • [4]

    In his The Visitation, 1640 (Detroit Institute of Arts, inv. no. 27.200), for example, Rembrandt depicted the aged Zacharias descending the stairs to greet Mary, although Elizabeth’s husband is not mentioned in this biblical episode.

  • [5]

    Kurt Bauch, Der frühe Rembrandt und seine Zeit: Studien zur geschichtlichten Bedeutung seines Frühstils (Berlin, 1960), 258, note 96. Pynas’ painting, which is in the Alfred Bader Collection, now at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, Ontario, is also mentioned in this context by Christian Tümpel, “Religious History Painting,” in Albert Blankert et al., Gods, Saints and Heroes: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt (Washington, 1980), 51, fig. 6.

  • [6]

    Joost van den Vondel, Joseph in Egypten, act. 5, verse 1348: “daer komt die fraeie gast,” as quoted in Hans Kauffmann, “Anmerkungen zu Rembrandts Potipharbildern,” in Otto von Simson and Jan Kelch, eds., Neue Beiträge zur Rembrandt-Forschung (Berlin, 1973), 52. The connection between this painting and Vondel’s play appears to have first been made by Rudolf Wustmann, “Die Joseph-geschichte bei Vondel und Rembrandt,” Kunstchronik 18 (November 23, 1906): 81–84.

  • [7]

    Gary Schwartz, Rembrandt: zijn leven, zijn schilderijen (Maarssen, 1984), 274–275. Schwartz identifies the actors as Adriana van den Bergh (Iempsar), her husband, Gillis Nooseman (Potiphar), and Cornelis Laurensz Krook (Joseph).

  • [8]

    Hans Kauffmann, “Anmerkungen zu Rembrandts Potipharbildern,” in Otto von Simson and Jan Kelch, eds., Neue Beiträge zur Rembrandt-Forschung (Berlin, 1973), 53–57.

  • [9]

    Geertje Dirckx was released from the Gouda house of correction on May 31, 1655, after having spent five years confined in the “Spinhuis.” Rembrandt purportedly tried to prevent her release and wanted to keep her there for another eleven years. For documents relating to this matter see Walter L. Strauss and Marjon van der Meulen, The Rembrandt Documents (New York, 1979), 327, doc. 1655/2; 340, doc. 1656/5.

  • [10]

    Gustav Friedrich Waagen, Die Gemäldesammlung in der kaiserlichen Ermitage zu St. Petersburg nebst Bemerkungen über andere dortige Kunstsammlungen (Munich, 1864), 179, no. 794. In this dating he follows Baron B. de Köhne, Ermitage Impérial, Catalogue de la Galerie des Tableaux (Saint Petersburg, 1863), no. 794.

  • [11]

    Wilhelm von Bode, Studien zur Geschichte der holländischen Malerei (Braunschweig, 1883), 508, 599, no. 319; Wilhelm von Bode assisted by Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, The Complete Work of Rembrandt, trans. Florence Simmonds, 8 vols. (Paris, 1897–1906), 6:34, no. 401.

  • [12]

    Émile Michel, Rembrandt: Sa vie, son oeuvre et son temps, 2 vols. (New York, 1893; English trans., 1894), 2:80; Andrei Ivanovich Somof, Ermitage Impérial. Catalogue de la Galerie des Tableaux, 2 vols. (Saint Petersburg, 1901), 2:308, no. 794. “Il se peut, du reste, que ce trait soit simplement l’effet du hasard, et qu’il soit produit bien plus tard, lors du nettoyage ou du rentoilage du tableau.” Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt, Schilderijen (Vienna, 1935), no. 523, dated the painting 1655 without further comment.

  • [13]

    Hans Kauffmann, “Anmerkungen zu Rembrandts Potipharbildern,” in Otto von Simson and Jan Kelch, eds., Neue Beiträge zur Rembrandt-Forschung (Berlin, 1973), 50–51.

  • [14]

    Émile Michel, Rembrandt: Sa vie, son oeuvre et son temps, 2 vols. (New York, 1893; English trans., 1894), 2:80.

  • [15]

    Wilhelm von Bode assisted by Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, The Complete Work of Rembrandt, trans. Florence Simmonds, 8 vols. (Paris, 1897–1906), 6:3.

  • [16]

    Jakob Rosenberg, Rembrandt, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1948), 1:137.

  • [17]

    From M. Knoedler & Co., letter, March 10, 1936, in NGA curatorial files. Schmidt-Degener’s reactions seem to have been inspired by a recent restoration of the painting. Nothing is known about the restoration other than that the painting was relined in Amsterdam in 1935 by C. M. Jenner (an inscription in Dutch indicating this information is on the inside of the stretcher).

  • [18]

    Otto Benesch, “The Rembrandt Paintings in the National Gallery of Art,” Art Quarterly 6 (Winter 1943):27. Benesch’s opinion about the chronological precedence of the Washington version was influenced by the relationship he saw between this painting and a drawing in the Graphische Sammlung, Munich (inv. 1448). He felt that the drawing was a preparatory study for this work. See Otto Benesch, The Drawings of Rembrandt: A Critical and Chronological Catalogue, 6 vols. (London, 1954–1957), 5:277, no. 958. The drawing, however, belongs to a notorious group of forgeries of Rembrandt drawings in Munich and cannot be considered within this context. See Jakob Rosenberg, review of Otto Benesch, The Drawings of Rembrandt: A Critical and Chronological Catalogue, 6 vols. (London, 1954–1957), Art Bulletin 41 (March 1959): 108–119.

  • [19]

    Kurt Bauch, Rembrandt Gemälde (Berlin, 1966), no. 33.

  • [20]

    Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by Horst Gerson (London, 1969), 601, no. 523.

  • [21]

    Christian Tümpel in Wort und Bild in der niederländischen Kunst und Literatur des 16. u. 17. Jahrhunderts, ed. H. Vekeman and J. Müller Hofstede (Erfstadt, 1984), 189; Christian Tümpel, Rembrandt, trans. Jacques and Jean Duvernet, Léon Karlson, and Patrick Grilli (Paris, 1986), 419–420, no. A2; and Christian Tümpel in Christian Tümpel and Jacqueline Boonen, Het Oude Testament in de schilderkunst van de Gouden Eeuw (Zwolle, Amsterdam, and Jerusalem, 1991), 200.

  • [22]

    The “curious ‘craquelure’” that Gerson had complained about in 1969 (see Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by Horst Gerson [London, 1969], 601, no. 523) was from the heavy varnish layers. These have since been removed.   

  • [23]

    The information comes from an inscription on the back of the painting.

  • [24]

    It cannot be determined whether further alterations were made to the size of the original support.

  • [25]

    The figures in the Washington painting are closer to the top edge than they are in the Berlin version. The possibility that the Washington painting has been trimmed along that edge should not be excluded.

  • [26]

    The step, however, makes no logical sense in that it runs under the bed; thus the bedposts at the foot of the bed rest on a lower level than do those at the head of the bed. This illogical arrangement is one reason for doubting the attribution of the Berlin version of this composition to Rembrandt (see also note 29).

  • [27]

    For an assessment of the different character of the interpretations of the story in these two paintings see Mieke Bal, Reading "Rembrandt": Beyond the Word-Image Opposition (Cambridge and New York, 1991), 105–108.

  • [28]

    I would like to thank Ernst van de Wetering for sharing with me his observations about these areas when he examined the painting in 1989, contained in an e-mail correspondence dated December 15, 2009.

  • [29]

    The overly dramatic gesture of Joseph as he looks heavenward is quite uncharacteristic for Rembrandt in the mid-1650s. It is a gesture, however, that does appear in Willem Drost’s drawing of The Lament for Abel (see Werner Sumowski, Drawings of the Rembrandt School, ed. and trans. Walter L. Strauss, 10 vols. [New York, 1979–1992], 3:1204, no. 553x, repro.). This coincidence, as well as the relatively bold brushwork with thick impastos, which relates to Drost’s known works, suggests that he may have been responsible for the Berlin version. Ernst van de Wetering, on the other hand (Ernst van de Wetering, “'Principaelen' and Satellites,” in Lene Bøgh Rønberg and Eva de la Fuente Pedersen, Rembrandt?: The Master and His Workshop [Copenhagen, 2006], 120), has argued that the Berlin painting is primarily by Rembrandt but that a student executed the figure of Joseph.

  • [30]

    For an analysis of Van Renesse’s style and biographical information on the artist, see the entry on The Descent from the Cross.

  • [31]

    Ernst van de Wetering, “'Principaelen' and Satellites,” in Lene Bøgh Rønberg and Eva de la Fuente Pedersen, Rembrandt?: The Master and His Workshop (Copenhagen, 2006), 120.