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Pontormo, 'Joseph with Jacob in Egypt', probably 1518

Key facts
Full title Joseph with Jacob in Egypt
Artist Pontormo
Artist dates 1494 - 1556/7
Series Scenes from the Story of Joseph
Date made probably 1518
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 96.5 × 109.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1882
Inventory number NG1131
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Joseph with Jacob in Egypt

This was the latest and most advanced of a series of panels that were made to decorate the bedchamber of the Florentine banker Pierfrancesco Borgherini on the occasion of his marriage in 1515. The paintings, commissioned by Pierfrancesco’s father, tell the Old Testament story of Joseph. Five other panels from the series are in the National Gallery’s collection.

In this picture (which may not have been part of the original commission) the concluding episodes of the story of Joseph and Jacob are ingeniously condensed. There are four separate moments combined here: Joseph introducing his father Jacob to the Pharaoh of Egypt; Joseph on a chariot, hearing a petition from the victims of famine; Joseph with his sons climbing the staircase to visit the dying Jacob; and Jacob blessing Joseph’s sons.

This type of picture, in which several parts of a story are shown simultaneously, is known as a continuous narrative and was particularly popular for furniture decoration.

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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.