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Painting of the Week: Joseph Accused by Potiphar’s Wife

The story of Joseph fascinated Rembrandt, who crafted numerous drawings, prints, and paintings of this Old Testament figure.

Having failed to seduce Joseph, Potiphar’s wife is seen here falsely accusing him of trying to violate her. Speaking to Potiphar, the wife gestures to the red robe at the foot of the bed that Joseph left behind, intentionally darkened to emphasize the wickedness in her accusation.

Joseph was not present in the biblical account, but Rembrandt inserted him on the left for dramatic effect. It is unclear why his hand is raised in the painting.

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One day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, he called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.” — Genesis 39:11–18

Artist: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Year: 1655

Location: Joseph Accused by Potiphar’s Wife is in the Gemäldegalerie museum in Berlin, Germany.

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Read more about this piece and browse other sacred art in the Verbum app.

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