Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of Pharoah's Servants

Accession Number

Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of Pharoah's Servants

Nöel Hallé

Object Creation Date
circa 1747

Medium & Support
oil on canvas

44 1/16 in x 37 3/4 in (112 cm x 95.8 cm);44 1/16 in x 37 3/4 in (112 cm x 95.8 cm);52 1/16 in x 45 3/4 in (132.24 cm x 116.21 cm)

Credit Line
Museum purchase made possible by a gift from Helmut Stern

Label copy
March 28, 2009
History painting, that is, depictions of mythological, historical, or biblical subjects, was the highest level of painting as dictated by the French Academy, the arbiter of taste in the fine arts in eighteenth-century France. In this example, Hallé painted the scene in a restrained manner, using the single gesture of an outstretched arm to relate the drama of the moment when the Old Testament figure of Joseph interprets the dreams of two servants to the Egyptian Pharaoh.
While imprisoned by the Pharaoh in Egypt, Joseph (in the rich blue robe) tells the Pharaoh’s butler and baker what their dreams foretell. They listen intently as he predicts that the dream of the butler means that in three days time he will be released and returned to the service of the Pharaoh, and that the baker’s dream foretells he will be put to death. Joseph says to the butler, “make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews; and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon” (Genesis 40:14–15).

Subject matter
This history painting depicts a scene from the Old Testament (Genesis, Chapter 40) in which Joseph tells the Pharoah's servants what their dreams foretell. The Bible story relates that while in prison, the chief butler and chief baker to the Pharoah were troubled by their recent dreams. Joseph interpreted the butler 's dream to mean that he would be released and returned to the Pharoah's service in three days. Joseph asks the butler to remember him when that happens so that he might be released from prison. Joseph then interprets the baker's dream to mean that he will be put to death by the Pharoah in three days time. The events happened as Joseph predicted, but the chief butler forgets him and he remains imprisoned.
The setting for this painting is the interior of a prison where Joseph, standing on the left, is shown gesturing toward the baker and butler who stare intently at his face.

Physical Description
This painting shows the interior of a large prison room. There is a thick stone wall and iron grating. Three figures are the focal point of this composition. One man, in a dark blue cloak, is standing and faces two other men who stare intently at his face. One of them is seated with a leg iron, on a stone bench and the other leans on a stone ledge. They are are dressed in simple brown cloaks. The standing figure has a raised left arm and is gesturing with his hand outstretched toward the other figures.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

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hands (animal components)
men (male humans)
prisons (buildings)

& Author Notes

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