In the Gospel of Matthew, the apostle relates: “And when [the wise men] were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” (Matt. 2:13.)
In 1773 Mengs was granted the privilege of hanging his portrait in the Florence gallery of artists’ portraits founded by Giorgio Vasari in the mid-16th century. Allegedly, he chose the spot himself: having been celebrated as “the new Raphael”, he promptly placed his portrait beneath the one of the great Italian painter. In 1745 Mengs had become Saxon court painter in Dresden but spent a great deal of his time in Rome. There, along with Winckelmann, he became one of the founders of Classicism and in the view of his admirers helped to supersede the decadent Baroque. In 1773/74 he returned to Madrid, where he had been appointed court painter to Charles III in 1760. The present painting depicting Joseph’s dream was probably reated during Mengs’s Florentine period and came directly into the possession of the grand duke Pietro Leopoldo. In Rome Mengs had renewed his study of the works of Michelangelo, and Joseph’s posture is clearly adopted from the master’s Jerome in the Sistine Chapel.
© Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery, Vienna 2010