ID number: BIRBI-63.1
Institution: The Barber Institute of Fine Arts
Artist / Maker: Breenbergh, Bartholomeus (1598-1657)
Title / Object name: Joseph Distributing Corn in Egypt
Object type: Painting
Place made: Amsterdam
Date made: 1655
Materials: Oil on canvas
Measurements: 112.5 x 9.2 cm: 132.5 x 111.6 x 9.5cm framed
Provenance: Possibly Jan Agges sale, Amsterdam, 1702 (lot 22); B. van Cley sale, Amsterdam, 1756 (lot 9), purchased by P. Laendert de Neufville; his sale, Amsterdam, 1771 (lot 27), purchased by Fouquet; Count Czernin, Vienna by 1844; Christie's, 24 May 1963 (lot 71), purchased by Agnew's; purchased the Barber Institute, June 1963
Joseph, standing on a platform at the upper right, oversees the sale of corn during a time of famine. According to the Old Testament, Joseph had stored the fruits of seven bountiful years and the people of Egypt, watched by the Pharaoh, to the upper left, benefit from his foresight. Amongst the figures who buy corn, barter their goods and give charity are Joseph’s brothers (behind the camel). They once sold him into slavery and now seek his aid.
The Egyptian setting is established by the obelisk, but Breenbergh also includes Roman buildings which the Dutchman knew from his Italian journey (1619-29). The relief on the base of the obelisk points to Rome, the source of the other motifs too. A fantasy city in the background combines motifs from ancient Roman monuments and is surmounted by a gigantic Pantheon.
This is a very late painting and reminiscent of the art of Pieter Lastman in the bold gestures of the figures, the magnificent costumes and the construction of the architectural backdrop. He has also included numerous turbans and magnificent Oriental costumes like those worn by Joseph, and the Pharaoh, who looks down from a terrace on the opposite side. They show characteristics that can be found in Rembrandt's work. In addition, the camel on which a young man with a bright red cap is enthroned, and a number of Black figures in the crowd, provided Dutch viewers of the 17th century with some idea of the distant location. Like most Netherlandish painters of his time, Breenbergh was not concerned with historical accuracy but rather with creating an atmospheric image.
The picture, which recreates an existing painting dated 1654, is the only known second version of a work in Breenbergh's oeuvre.
Inscriptions / Translations: Signed and dated I.I.: Barts Breenburgh fecit/Ano. 1655
Notes: Exhibited: 'Europa und der Orient, 800-1900', Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany, 28 May 1989 - 27 August 1989, (no. 1/69); 'In Rembrandt's Light: The Old Testament During the Golden Age of Dutch Art', Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster, Germany, 11 September 1994 - 20 November 1994, (no. 26); 'Batholomeus Breenbergh: Joseph Distributing Corn in Egypt', Bredius Museum, The Hague, The Netherlands, 11 February 2005 - 01 May 2005, (no. 2); 'Rembrandt's Orient: West Meets East in Dutch Art of the 17th Century', Kunstmuseum Basel 31 October 2020 - 14 February 2021 and Museum Barberini, Potsdam March 13 - 27 June 2021.