Art Guide - January 2020

Columban - Catholic Calendar Art Guide January 2020  

The bloody coat of Joseph Oil on canvas by Coypel, Antoine (1661-1722) 

Antoine Coypel was an acclaimed history painter and emerged as an important influence in developing the Baroque style in French art. The Old Testament story of Joseph inspired the imagination of European artists like Coypel, with its dramatic focus on complex emotion. This painting portrays the climax of the Biblical narrative when Joseph’s splendid ‘robe of many colours’, which had been dipped in goat’s blood, is shown to the old father Jacob, to convince him that his favourite son was dead: “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe or not.” (Genesis 37:32). Instead, Joseph had been deceitfully sold into slavery by his jealous brothers who present the bloodied garment to their father, the aged patriarch Jacob. In recognizing the special cloak, Jacob slumps into his chair with limp arms, expressing his anguish on hearing the deceptive news that a wild beast had killed his favourite son. In this dramatic visualization of the story, the physical reactions of the participants are forcefully depicted. While the patriarch Jacob, the central focus of the picture, is shown to express genuine grief, the three brothers convey varying states of pretence and doubt. The setting of the drama is intensified for the viewer by bringing the action close to foreground of the picture. The story of Joseph inspired the imagination of European artists, not only for the adventurous exploits of the young leader, but also for the jealousies, deceits and betrayals that mark the complex narrative of his life. 

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