One Story, Three Painters

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife / Cignani
Joseph and Potiphar's Wife / Cantarini
Joseph and Potiphar's Wife / Reni
audio Audio: Learn more about how the three painters interpreted this moment in the story.

Carlo Cignani, Simone Cantarini, and Guido Reni each responded differently to the task of depicting the decisive moment in this encounter, but they all chose a three-quarter-length format, concentrating on the upper body and bringing the viewer into close contact with the figures. Joseph's raised hand, with an open palm that articulates his rejection of the attempted seduction, is another feature common to all three pictures.

In Cignani's version (left), Potiphar's wife is is much more interested in holding onto Joseph than in grasping his cloak. Cantarini (middle) depicts her clutching Joseph's cloak firmly, pursuing him with a penetrating, scornful gaze. She clearly considers it her right to treat the young man as a piece of personal property, as a slave to be commanded. Potiphar's wife is usually depicted as assertive and lusty, as Cignani and Cantarini have represented her. However, Reni (right) characterizes her as a striking young woman who is genuinely in love, pining for Joseph. Her melancholy gaze expresses that, deep down, she knows that her battle for Joseph's heart is lost.