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Bacchiacca, 'Joseph receives his Brothers', probably 1515

Key facts
Full title Joseph receives his Brothers on their Second Visit to Egypt
Artist Bacchiacca
Artist dates 1495 - 1557
Series Scenes from the Story of Joseph
Date made probably 1515
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 36.2 × 142.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1886
Inventory number NG1218
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Joseph receives his Brothers

This painting is one of a series of panels that decorated the bedchamber of the Borgherini palace in Florence. Together, they tell the life of Joseph from the Old Testament (Genesis 43).

Joseph, who had been sold into slavery in Egypt as a boy by his half-brothers, foretold a famine from a dream Pharaoh had, and advised him to stockpile grain. Made vizier of Egypt, Joseph received his half-brothers who came in search of grain, but they did not recognise him. He accused them of spying and demanded that they bring their younger brother to Egypt to prove their honesty.

In this painting, they return to Egypt with their youngest brother, Benjamin – the little boy wearing blue – and gifts from their father. They present the gifts to Joseph in the centre, still not realising he is the brother they sold. Joseph sends them back home with a precious cup hidden in Benjamin’s sack. The outline of the cup is visible below Benjamin’s hand.

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Scenes from the Story of Joseph


These six pictures by Pontormo and Bacchiacca were part of a larger series of panel paintings commissioned to celebrate the marriage of Pierfrancesco Borgherini to Margherita Accaiuoli in 1515. The series decorated the couple’s bedroom in the Borgherini palace in Florence. Francesco Granacci and Andrea del Sarto also contributed to the decorative scheme, which would have been one of the most sumptuous of the time. The paintings, telling the story of Joseph from the Old Testament (Genesis 39), would have been set into the wall panelling and furniture.

Pontormo’s interest in the emerging new style known as Mannerism – a reaction against the harmony, proportion and naturalism of High Renaissance art – is evident in his bright colours, disconcertingly unnatural approach to space, elongated figures and spiralling compositions. Bacchiacca’s scenes are expressive and dramatic but stylistically more conventional.