This painting is one of a series of panels painted in 1515 for the Florentine bedchamber of Pierfrancesco Borgherini. They tell the life of Joseph from the Old Testament and were probably originally set into furniture.
Joseph’s brothers, who sold him into slavery as a boy, come to Egypt to seek grain during a famine. Joseph, now vizier of Egypt, accuses his half-brothers, who do not recognise him, of spying. When they tell Joseph that they have a younger brother at home, Joseph demands that they bring him to Egypt.
In Joseph receives his Brothers, the brothers return to Egypt with their youngest brother, Benjamin. Joseph sends them back with a cup hidden in Benjamin’s sack. The next morning, Joseph sends his steward to find the ‘missing’ cup.
In this painting, which depicts three different moments in the story as a continuous narrative, the brothers are brought to Joseph, with Benjamin a prisoner. They beg for Joseph’s mercy; he reveals his true identity and forgives them.
This painting is one of a series of panels that decorated a bedchamber in the Borgherini palace in Florence. They were probably set into furniture. They were painted in 1515 to celebrate the marriage of Pierfrancesco Borgherini and are known as The Story of Joseph: Scenes from the Borgherini Bedchamber.
Together, they tell the story of Joseph from the Old Testament. Five of the other panels are in the National Gallery’s collection. Here, Joseph pardons his brothers for selling him into slavery in Egypt when he was a boy.
Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to seek grain during a famine. Joseph, now vizier of Egypt, accuses his half-brothers, who do not recognise him, of spying. When they tell Joseph that they have a younger brother at home, Joseph demands that they bring him to Egypt. He imprisons three of his brothers and sends three back home with their sacks and their purses full. The brothers persuade their father Jacob to allow them to return to Egypt with their younger brother, Benjamin, to prove they are honest men.
In Joseph receives his Brothers, the brothers return to Egypt with Benjamin and gifts from their father, which they give to Joseph. He sends his brothers back home, but with a cup hidden in Benjamin’s sack.
The next morning, Joseph sends his steward after the brothers to find the ‘missing’ cup; he discovers it in Benjamin’s sack and escorts the group back to Egypt. Joseph confronts his brothers and demands that whoever stole the cup should become his slave. Judah begs for Benjamin to be released and offers to be enslaved instead. Joseph breaks down in tears and reveals that he is the brother that they sold into slavery. In this painting by Bacchiacca, the brothers are brought to Joseph, with young Benjamin a prisoner. They beg for Joseph’s mercy; he reveals his true identity and forgives them.
The painting is structured as a continuous narrative, with the characters represented three times at different moments of the story. In the distance we see the brothers, with Benjamin riding the pack horse, as they are intercepted by Joseph’s guard. In the left foreground they are escorted back to Egypt. Bacchiacca has captured a wide range of expressions and poses. Two brothers appear to be fighting – one shields his face as the other clenches his fist. A guard reaches for another brother’s sword. Little Benjamin is escorted by a turbanned soldier at the head of the group, while one distraught brother looks up to heaven, as though appealing to God for mercy.
When the brothers learn Joseph’s true identity on the right of the panel, their reactions are extreme: one wipes his eyes and hides his face beneath his hat; another falls to the ground clutching his hair; one holds his head as if he cannot believe his ears; another falls to his knee and begs forgiveness. Bacchiacca has used the variety of expressions and the rhythm of repeated colour across the panel to tie the disparate parts of the story together and express the intense emotion of the drama.
Joseph with Jacob in Egypt by Pontormo is the final part of the story.
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This group of paintings were made as a series and would have been displayed together.