Joseph Accused by Potiphar's Wife

Topics: Light, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Potiphar Pages: 10 (1733 words) Published: October 8, 1999
The story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife is told in the first

book of the Bible, Genesis, chapter 39. Joseph was sold into

slavery by his brothers and bought by Potiphar, a high ranking

official in the Pharaoh's service. "The Lord was with Joseph,"

and gave him success in everything he did. This pleased Potiphar

and before long Joseph was given the highest position in the

household, and left in charge when Potiphar was away. Now

Potiphar's wife found Joseph to be very good looking and had

approached him several times saying "come to bed with me;" and

Joseph being a man of God would not sin against his master or the

Lord, so he refused her. One day when all the servants were

gone, Joseph entered the house and Potiphar's wife approached him

and while holding on to his cloak said "come to bed with me".

Joseph refused and left the house leaving his cloak behind.

Potiphar' Wife screamed for help saying that Joseph had attacked

and tried to sleep with her. When her husband came home she told

him the same false story. Potiphar was so angry at Joseph he had

him locked up in Pharaoh's prison. "But while Joseph was in the

prison, the Lord was with him." This is the subject matter for

which Rembrandt choose to do his representational painting by.

The content of the painting all reveals Rembrandt's

interpretation of the story

This is the account from the Bible of the accusation of

Joseph by Potiphar's Wife. Rembrandt Van Ryn chose this

particular story as the subject of his narrative painting

completed in 1655, under the title of "Joseph Accused By

Potiphar's Wife". Before researching this painting, I noted my

fist perception of Rembrandt work of art. I realized through

that as a result of my later research, my first perception did

not change, but instead were enriched and enlarged by a newfound

understanding of the man and his art. I largely concentrated on

my first and later perceptions in the design elements and

principles of lighting or value, infinite space, color, and focal


After conducting research, my first perceptions about the

value, or relative degree of lightness or darkness, in the

painting did not change, but instead I learned that Rembrandt's

use of light and dark was both purposeful and a technique well-

known to the artists of his time. When I first observed this

painting, I thought how dark everything seemed. The only

exceptions to the darkness are the bed and Potiphar's wife, both

of which are flooded in light almost as if a spotlight were

thrown on her and the bed. Some light shines on Joseph's face

and from behind him like a halo around his body, but this light

is very dim. Potiphar in great contrast to his wife is almost in

complete darkness. I first felt there should be more light from

perhaps candles to cast the entire room in partial light. But

after research I found that "Rembrandt liked strong contrasts of

light and dark and used them in his paintings all his life,

letting darkness hide unnecessary details while using light to

bring figures and objects out from the shadows. The high

contrast of light against dark changed an ordinary scene into a

dramatic one ... the Italian word for this use of light and dark

[is] chiaroscuro " (Muhlberger 9). Rembrandt must have believed

that too much detail in the room would have obscured the primary

players of this scene. He uses light to brightly illuminate the

most important person in this painting, Potiphar's wife. In

descending order of importance, Rembrandt places a glow around

Joseph and casts Potiphar in a almost total darkness. I now am

able to see how the contrast of light and dark demonstrates

drastically this crucial turning point in Joseph's life. The

fact that an Italian word exists for Rembrandt's lighting

technique only proves the...

Cited: Barker, Kenneth. The Holy Bible, New International Version.
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House,1995.
Muhlberger, Richard. What Makes A Rembrandt A Rembrandt? New
York: Viking, 1993.
Munz, Ludwig. Rembrandt. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc, 1984
Schwartz, Gary. First Impressiaons:Rembrandt. New York: Harry N.
Abrams Inc, 1992.
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