Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664)
Joseph, ca. 1640–45
Oil on canvas
79 1/4 x 40 3/4 in. (201.3 x 103.5 cm)
Auckland Castle, County Durham, UK, courtesy Auckland Castle Trust/Zurbarán Trust
© The Auckland Project/Zurbarán Trust; photo by Robert LaPrelle
Joseph is a fruitful bough,
a fruitful bough by a spring;
his branches run over the wall.
The archers fiercely attacked him;
they shot at him and pressed him hard.
Yet his bow remained taut,
and his arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,
by the God of your father, who will help you,
by the Almighty who will bless you
with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that lies beneath,
blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
The blessings of your father
are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains,
the bounties of the everlasting hills;
may they be on the head of Joseph,
on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.
“The Blessings of Jacob” (Genesis 49:22–26)
Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob and the first son of his beloved second wife, Rachel. His narrative in the Old Testament is extensive. As a favorite of his father, Joseph aroused the jealousy of his brothers, who convinced Jacob that he was dead and then sold him into slavery. Joseph was taken to Egypt, where he rose to prominence in the court of the pharaoh for his ability to interpret dreams. Zurbarán’s depiction of Joseph in regal attire with a rod and document in his hand underlines his position as a great administrator in the Egyptian court. Joseph’s assertive pose, direct gaze, and opulent dress and headgear reflect his preeminence among the twelve sons. Details of his costume are taken from Joseph in Jacques de Gheyn II’s print series The Twelve Sons of Jacob.