Potiphar's Wife Accusing Joseph (from the series The Story of Joseph, plate 3 of 5)

Lucas van Leyden (Netherlandish, about 1494–1533)

Catalogue Raisonné

Bartsch (intaglio) 021; Filedt Kok (New Hollstein) 21, I/III


Image: 12.3 × 15.9 cm (4 13/16 × 6 1/4 in.) Sheet: 12.5 × 16.1 cm (4 15/16 × 6 5/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


Europe, Prints and Drawings



Prints by the Netherlandish painter, Lucas van Leyden, played a dominant role in the early sixteenth century, rivaling in skill and influence his German counterpart, Albrecht Dürer. The 1512 engraving Potiphar’s Wife Accusing Joseph is one of a series of 5 prints illustrating events of Joseph’s enslavement in Egypt executed at a pivotal time in the artist’s career. (figures now relate to their surroundings in a more natural, less contrived manner).
The dramatic narrative events of Joseph’s good and bad fortune in Egypt - his enslavement, rise, fall, salvation, and release - had great appeal to a Medieval and early Renaissance Dutch culture that learned life’s lessons from moralized Bibles and other illustrated religious texts. Unlike Dürer, who illustrated the New Testament to a great degree, Lucas van Leyden frequently preferred subjects from the Old Testament, in part because the stories afforded him greater latitude to explore human psychology, subtle emotion, moral choice, and double-dealing conflict. More than any other artist until Munch, Lucas found a multitude of ways to illustrate the perceived dangers of women’s wiles. The wife of Potiphar, the Pharaoh’s captain, lusted for Joseph and repeatedly tried to seduce him. Joseph resisted, but in his haste to escape one day allowed the temptress to snatch his cloak. In this print, at the very break of day, she presents the cloak to her husband as evidence that Joseph had in fact seduced her. Potiphar reacts with swift anger. Characteristically, glance and gesture direct the narrative. To heighten the reality for the Dutch viewer, all of this takes place in a Northern landscape before witnesses wearing Dutch attire, with a nod to the Middle East only in Potiphar’s turban.


Signed and dated in plate, upper center: L/1512


Watermark: crowned shield with sun and the letter B (Briquet 13978, datable 1512); verso, collector's signature in ink: P. Mariette 1660 [Pierre Mariette II, Lugt 1789 or 1790]; collector's stamp: [A B in a shield, Albert W. Blum, Lugt 79b]; collector's stamp in red: [Albertina duplicate, Lugt 5g]; in graphite: No 21; 21 [underlined]


1660, Pierre Mariette II (b. 1634 - d. 1716), Paris 1660. Before 1922, Albertina, Vienna; after 1922, sold by the Albertina as a duplicate to C. G. Boerner, Leipzig; 1925, sale, C. G. Boerner (dealer), lot 799; Gilhofer & Ranschburg (dealer); Dr. Albert W. Blum (b. 1882 - d. 1952), Swtizerland and Short Hills, N.J.; February 27, 1988, Blum sale, Sotheby's, NY, lot 1204, to C. G. Boerner, Dusseldorf. Hill-Stone, NY; December 12, 2007, purchased from C. G. Boerner by the MFA.

Credit Line

Katherine E. Bullard Fund in memory of Francis Bullard