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Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of his Fellow Prisoners

Francesco Fontebassoabout 1750

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, United States

A standing Joseph gestures dramatically with his right hand as he interprets the dreams and foretells the futures of two fellow captives. Learning that he is to be released, the younger prisoner, his body uncoiling, reacts with relief. In sharp contrast, the older prisoner collapses in grief--Joseph has told him that he will be executed. The architectural backdrop reinforces these differing fates. The left side of the drawing is spacious and open, leading to freedom. The closed-off right side offers no such reprise; the older prisoner will never again experience the world beyond the barred window.

The high degree of finish indicates that Francesco Fontebasso probably created the drawing for the album of a collector. The artist produced a series of biblical subjects in pen and wash, and this scene from Genesis was almost certainly included. The complex spatial setting, with its elaborately interlocking architectural elements, may have been inspired by Giovanni Battista Piranesi's series of engravings of prisons.

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