- Museum number
Joseph and Potiphar's wife; semi-nude female figure on bed, grasping at cloak of man who pulls away; first state before reworking by another hand. 1634
Etching, with light surface tone
- Production date
Height: 93 millimetres
Width: 115 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- For an impression of a later state see F,4.64.
Selected literature: Landsberger 1946, pp. 124-5; Boeck 1953, pp. 206-7; Smith 1987, pp. 505-6; Amsterdam 1991-1, pp. 188-9, no. 8; White 1999, p. 32.
Hinterding et al. 2000:
Seldom has the story of Potiphar's wife, who tries in vain to seduce the slave Joseph, been depicted as boldly as in Rembrandt's 1634 etching. The story is related in Genesis in the barest outline: Joseph, sold into bondage by his brothers to the Ishmaelites, becomes a slave of Potiphar, the Egyptian captain of Pharaoh's guard. He soon gains his master's favour. But Potiphar's wife lusts after the handsome young man: "And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within. And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out" (Genesis 39: 11-12).
Rembrandt based the composition of his etching on a small print by Antonio Tempesta (1555-1630) [Bartsch 71]. In both prints Joseph walks away towards the left, and Rembrandt has also followed his example in the pose of the young man's legs and the positioning of the bed in the pictorial space. But there the resemblance ends. In the final analysis, Tempesta's etching is a more wooden creation, his Joseph is a muscular adolescent in whom the advances of Potiphar's wife arouse nothing more than faintly glazed bewilderment. Rembrandt, on the other hand, has infused the scene with powerful psychological depth. Joseph reels from the woman in a highly suggestive gesture of physical revulsion. In her desire and shameless nakedness, Potiphar's wife is a near-pitiful figure. It seems as if Rembrandt wanted to use even the chiaroscuro to stress the contrast between good and evil, as the chaste Joseph is seen in the full light - he seems even to radiate light - while Potiphar's wife lies in the sultry semi-obscurity of the bed-curtains [Berlin-Amsterdam-London 1991- 2, p. 188].
Two fairly similar states of this print are known. The second is distinguishable only by the addition of some hatching in the upright of the bed and in one of the pillows.
In the sale of the works of art from the estate of Pieter de Haan (1767) the copper plate of "Joseph and Potiphar's Wife, with 2 impressions" was purchased for seven guilders by the art dealer Fouquet. The plate has been preserved and is now in a private collection [Hinterding 1993-4, p.290].
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1992 Mar-May, London, National Gallery, 'Rembrandt'
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Malcolm Add.46.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number