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Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife

Lanfranco Giovanni

(Parma 1582 - Rome 1647)

The canvas, documented in the Borghese collection from 1693, is a reproduction of the fresco of Palazzo Mattei painted by Giovanni Lanfranco in 1615. However, the later painting has some variations, as seen both in the wife of Potiphar – naked here – and the chromatic tones limited in this case to red and ochre.

The subject depicted is taken from the story of Joseph (Genesis 39, 7-18), a humble servant who fled when the wife of his master Potiphar tried to seduce him.

Object details

1620 circa
oil on canvas
cm 101 x 153

Salvator Rosa, 126.5 x 170 x 9 cm




Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room III, no. 3); Inv. 1790, room III, no. 34; Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 23; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1992 Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni;
  • 2001 Parma, Reggia di Colorno;
  • 2001-2002 Napoli, Castel Sant'Elmo;
  • 2002 Roma, Palazzo Venezia;
  • 2010-2011 Berna, Zentrum Paul Klee.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1936 Augusto Cecconi Principi (eliminazione di prosciugamenti delle vecchie vernici);
  • 1950 Decio Podio (nuovo telaio);
  • 1951 Augusto Cecconi Principi (pulitura, esportazione vecchie vernici, ritocchi e verniciatura).


This painting is mentioned for the first time in the context of the Borghese Collection in 1693 and was cited by 18th-century sources (Ramdohr 1787; Vasi 1792) as being present in Palazzo Borghese in Ripetta.

The work was painted by Giovanni Lanfranco in a period that still has not been precisely defined. Paola della Pergola (1955, p. 53, no. 88) proposed that it was made about the time of the artist’s work in Palazzo Costaguti, yet her idea was rejected by Erich Schleier (2001, p. 122, no. 13), who rather dated it to the 1620s. According to the latter scholar, the ‘smooth chiaroscuro and Caravaggio-like model’ of this painting seem to foreshadow several contemporary works by Simon Vouet, including the refined Allegory at the Pinacoteca Capitolina, which the French painter executed in roughly 1624-26.

In 1943, Vincenzo Golzio was the first to connect this work with the fresco of a similar subject painted by the artist from Parma in Palazzo Mattei in 1615; his view was accepted by Luigi Salerno (1952, 1958) and Alfred Moir (1967), who even suggested that the Borghese canvas served as a preparatory model for the painting in the Mattei residence. In 1977, Fabrizio D'Amico (1977) proposed the opposite relationship between the two works, providing good reasons for considering the canvas as a derivation of – and not a study for – the fresco; yet this scholar did not propose a precise chronology.

The painting depicts the episode from the Old Testament (Genesis 39:7-18) in which Joseph, the loyal and humble slave, is tempted by the attractive wife of the wealthy Egyptian named Potiphar. Fascinated by the young slave, one day the woman tries to seduce him: offended by his refusal, she takes revenge by accusing him of violence towards her, providing as evidence Joseph’s mantle, which was torn from him when she attempted to pull him to her. The work in fact portrays the moment of her advance. As Salerno (1952) suggested, the woman’s pose recalls that of Correggio’s beautiful Danae (inv. no. 125).

In 1995, Emilio Negro (p. 187, note 61, fig. 238) indicated a similar work in a private collection, which he ascribed to Lanfranco; his attribution, however, was rejected by Schleier (2001, p. 122).

  Antonio Iommelli

  • F.W.B. von Ramdohr, Ueber Malherei und Bildhauerarbeit in Rom für Liebhaber des Schönen in der Kunst, Leipzig 1787, p. 268;
  • M. Vasi, Itinéraire, 1792, p. 386;
  • E. e C. Platner, Beschreibung der Stadt Rom, III, Stuttgart 1842, III, p. 290;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 114;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 68;
  • H. Voss, Die Malerei des Barock in Rom, Berlin, p. 528;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 182;
  • P. della Pergola, Giovanni Lanfranco, in “Il Vasari”, I, 1934, p. 11;
  • A. De Rinaldis, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1939, p. 37;
  • V. Golzio, Giovanni Lanfranco decoratore di Palazzi romani, in “Capitolium”, I, 1943, p. 304;
  • P. della Pergola, Itinerario della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1951, p. 39;
  • L. Salerno, The Early work of Giovanni Lanfranco, in “The Burlington Magazine”, XCIV, 1952, p. 195;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 53, n. 88;
  • L. Salerno, Per Sisto Badalocchio e cronologia del Lanfranco, in “Commentari”, IX, 1958, p. 53;
  • R. Engass, La musica Barberini del Lanfranco, in “Commentari”, X, 1959, p. 202;
  • V. Golzio, Storia dell’Arte Classica e Italiana. Seicento e Settecento, Torino 1960, p. 578;
  • P. della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693 (I), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, XXVI, 1964, pp. 219-230, pp. 225, 229;
  • A. Moir, The Italian Followers of Caravaggio, Cambridge 1967, I, p. 103; II, fig. 142;
  • E. Schleier, A Bozzetto by Vouet, not by Lanfranco, in “The Burlington Magazine”, CIX, 1967, p. 275;
  • K. Rozman, Painter Franc Kavčič/caucig and his drawings of old masterpieces, in “Zbornik za umetnostno zgodovino”, XI-XII, 1974-1976, p. 55;
  • F. D’Amico, Appunti su Giovanni Lanfranco, in "Annuario dell’Istituto di Storia dell’Arte, I, 1977, p. 196, nota 4;
  • A. Cera, La pittura emiliana del ’600, Milano 1982, p. 42, fig. 25;
  • G.P. Bernini, Giovanni Lanfranco: (1582-1647), Calestano 1982, p. 42, fig. 25;
  • S. Guarino 1992, scheda in Invisibilia. Rivedere i capolavori. Vedere i progetti, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, 1992), a cura di M. E. Tittoni, S. Guarino, Roma 1992, p. 31;
  • E. Negro, Giovanni Lanfranco, in La Scuola dei Carracci. I seguaci di Annibale e Agostino, a cura di E. Negro, M. Pirondini, Modena 1995, p. 193;
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 379;
  • E. Schleier, scheda in Giovanni Lanfranco: un pittore barocco tra Parma, Roma e Napoli, catalogo della mostra (Parma, Reggia di Colorno, 2001), a cura di E. Schleier, Milano 2001, p. 122, n. 13;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 27.