Thursday, February 25, 2016

Down the Well But Not Out For the Count

Joseph Approaching His Brothers
From Fleur des histoires by Jean Mansel
French, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 55, fol. 21
Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age;
and he had made him a long tunic.
When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons,
they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.

One day, when his brothers had gone to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem,
Israel said to Joseph,
“Your brothers, you know, are tending our flocks at Shechem.
Get ready; I will send you to them.”

So Joseph went after his brothers and caught up with them in Dothan.
They noticed him from a distance,
and before he came up to them, they plotted to kill him.
They said to one another: “Here comes that master dreamer!
Come on, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns here;
we could say that a wild beast devoured him.
We shall then see what comes of his dreams.”

When Reuben heard this, 

he tried to save him from their hands, saying,
“We must not take his life.
Instead of shedding blood,” he continued,
Master of Jean de Mandeville, Joseph Cast Into the Well
French (Paris), 1360-1370
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS 1, v1, fol.39
“just throw him into that cistern there in the desert;
but do not kill him outright.”
His purpose was to rescue him from their hands
and return him to his father. 
So when Joseph came up to them,
they stripped him of the long tunic he had on;
then they took him and threw him into the cistern,
which was empty and dry.

They then sat down to their meal.
Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead,
their camels laden with gum, balm and resin to be taken down to Egypt.
Judah said to his brothers:
“What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood?
Rather, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites,
instead of doing away with him ourselves.
After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.”
His brothers agreed. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.

Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13A, 17B-28A (Reading 1 for Friday of the Second Week of Lent, February 26, 2016)

One of the most well-known stories in the Old Testament is the story of Joseph.  Beloved by his father, Jacob, the young boy is sent to visit his brothers who are away from the main camp tending their father’s sheep.  

Some families are riven with jealousy and this turns out to be one of them.  His brothers envy the boy on account of the favoritism of their father.  So, they decide to kill him.  But one of them argues against it.  His reasoning is that they should not kill him outright and shed his blood, but that they can do the same deed without personal involvement.  They can simply leave him down an empty cistern or well.  The idea that the cistern is empty of water suggests that there is a drought in the land.  Leaving someone stranded without water in such a harsh climate will have the same effect as killing him outright, but without the blood. 
So, they stick the child down the well and decide to have lunch nearby.  Pretty coldblooded, isn’t it?  

Fortunately for the boy, a caravan headed for Egypt happens to come along while the brothers are eating and they have another bright idea.  They will sell him to the traders as a slave, which will accomplish two things:  they will be rid them of him and make a profit as well
Rambures Master, Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Histoire ancienne
North French or Flemish, 1455-1465
New York,  Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M212, fol. 35r
.   
So, Joseph is sold and goes off toward Egypt.  When he arrives there he is sold again, to a court official.  He has to pass through several troubles in Egypt, but eventually he rises to be a high official himself, one of Pharaoh’s most trusted servants.  Through his amazing ability to interpret dreams he saves Egypt from famine, a famine which afflicts the entire region, including Canaan.  His brothers eventually come to Egypt to buy grain and are recognized.  But they don’t recognize Joseph, now grown up and a great man.  He first tricks them then reveals himself to them, forgives them and ultimately welcomes them and their father to leave their home and to settle in Egypt. 

This story, in all its aspects, is well represented in Western art, most especially through the illuminations found in the books used by lay readers, such as illustrated Bibles, picture Bibles, illustrated histories and Books of Hours.  Indeed, "the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) was one of the most popular and often retold and represented parables of the Old Testament. The plot is replete with dramatic twists--fraternal jealousy and treachery, attempted seduction, prophecy through dream interpretation, and the rewards of royal favor. Further, since patristic times, the trials of Joseph had been seen as a prefiguration of those of Christ. Both as narrative and typology, the Joseph story had "something for everyone."1

Some years ago I looked at images of the moment in which the grown up Joseph reveals himself and forgives his brothers I am your brother, Joseph.  

Today I will look at the beginning of the story, the point at which Joseph is betrayed and sold. 

Some depictions of this story try to tell the entire story in one picture or in a series of immediately adjacent pictures. Some of these are among the earliest pictures of this story that we have.
Story of Joseph
From Orationes of Gregory Nazianzen
Constantinople, 879-882
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Grec 510, 69v


Story of Joseph
From Book of Hours
German (Francoian), 1104-1119
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M739, fol 13v

Story of Joseph
From Book of Hours
German (Francoian), 1104-1119
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M739, fol 14r




These two pages face 
each other within the
Book of Hours.  















Story of Joseph
From Picture Bible
French (St. Omer, Abbey of St. Bertin), 1190-1200
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS KB 76 F5, fol. 3v
Story of Joseph
From Picture BibleFrench (Paris), 1244-1254
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M638, fol. 5r



























In the Psaltar of St. Louis (Louis IX) the images are found on a sequence of pages, with two scenes shown on each page.
Joseph Meets His Brothers and Joseph Cast
Into the Well
From Psalter of St. Louis
French (Paris), c.1270
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10525, fol. 16

Joseph Taken From the Well and Sold to Traders
From Psalter of St. Louis
French (Paris), c.1270
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10525, fol. 17





















Joseph's Brothers Present His Bloodstained Coat to Jacob
and Joseph is Sold by the Traders to Potiphar
From Psalter of St. Louis
French (Paris), c.1270
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10525, fol. 18
Joseph Cast Into the Well
From Queen Mary Psalter
English (London), 1310-1320
London, British Library
MS Royal 2 B VII, fol.  14v




In the so-called Queen Mary Psalter the images are located on facing pages.


Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Queen Mary Psalter
English (London), 1310-1320
London, British Library
MS Royal 2 B VII, fol.  15








This illustration from a Passover Haggadah reads from right to left in the same manner as the Hebrew text.
The Golden Haggadah, Haggadah for Passover
Spanish (Catalonia), 1325-1350
London, British Library
MS Additional 27210, fol. 6v






Scenes from story of Joseph
French, 1301-1400
Auxerre, Cathedral of Saint-Etienne







Master Francois and Collaborators, Story of Joseph
From Speculum historiale by Vincentius Bellovacensis
French (Paris), 1463
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 50, fol. 48














These scenes from the West Portal of Auxerre Cathedral also read from right to left, as they approach the cathedral door.









Here the sequence of images runs from the background toward the foreground, where Joseph is being sold to the traders.









Biagio d'Antonio, Story of Joseph
Italian, c.1485
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
Here the action takes place primarily on the left side of the painting, in a sort of zig zag motion, beginning with Joseph being sent by Jacob to his brothers. We see him walking toward them, then arriving, then being cast into the well and finally, being sold to the traders, who are shown embarking in the right background. In the right foreground his brothers present his bloodstained cloak to their sorrowing father, as the youngest brother, Benjamin, looks on.



Others images focus on certain moments in the story.

Joseph being thrust or pushed down the well.


Joseph Cast into the Well
From Sacra parallela by John Damascene
Byzantine (Constantinople), 850-900
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Grec 923, fol. 391

Master of the Roman de Fauvel, Joseph Cast Into the Well
From Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), 1300-1325
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 156, fol. 36v





















Joseph Cast Into the Well
From Weltchronik
German (Bavarian), 1355-1365
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M769, fol. 61r

Joseph Cast Into the Well
From Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c.1400
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 3, fol. 33
















Joseph Cast Into the Well
From Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), 15th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 159, 31

Joseph being removed from the well.  


These images are more rare than the scenes of his being cast into the well, possibly because it is not as dramatic.
Joseph Removed from the Well
From Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), 1300-1325
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 160, fol. 35
















Joseph Removed from the Well
From Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Breton), 1417
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 163, fol. 21


















The exchange with the traders of Joseph for cash and Joseph resold in Egypt.


Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Bible historialeof Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c.1300
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 155, fol. 16v
Master of the Coronation Book of Charles V, Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Bible historiale of John the Good by Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c1350-1356
London, British Library
MS Royal 19 D II, fol. 33v





















Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c.1400
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 9, fol. 36v

Master of Jouvenel and Collaborators, Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Mare historiarum by Johannes de Columna
French (Anjou), 1447-1455
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 4915, fol. 33v





























Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Fleur des histoires by Jean Mansel
French, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 55, fol. 21

Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Bible historiale of Edward IV
by Guiard des Moulins
Belgian (Bruges), 1479
London, British Library
MS Royal 18 D IX, fol. 84





















Master of the Flemish Boethius, Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Jewish Antiquities by Flavius Josephus
Belgiian (Bruges), 1483
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 11, fol. 32v



Jacopo Pontormo, Joseph Sold to Potiphar
Italian, 1515-1518
London, National Gallery


















Bacchiacca, Joseph Sold
Italian, 1515-1516
Rome, Galleria Borghese



















Typological Images

There is also a group of images, running through the entire medieval period, which show something else, a connection between the story of Joseph and the story of Jesus. Just reading the biblical text above brings up several parallels between them, among which is the similarity to the death, burial and resurection of Jesus for Joseph is betrayed by those closest to him, he is thrown into a well (in effect buried) but raised from it and he is sold for silver.

These images use what is known as typology to connect the stories.  Among the most famous, as well as one of the earliest of these is found on the Klosterneuburg Altarpiece, commissioned by Abbot Wernher of Klosterneuburg from the goldsmith and enamel worker, Nicholas of Verdun and dedicated in 1181.2

It is one of the greatest works of the early part of the high middle ages.  It is famously divided into three registers of enamel images.  On the top register are scenes from the Book of Genesis, called the Time Before the Law.  On the bottom register are scenes from the other books of the Old Testament, from Exodus on, called the Time Under the Law.  The middle section shows scenes from the New Testament, called the Time Of Grace.   The images above and below the New Testament scene are to be read as types (i.e., prototypes) for the New Testament scene.

In the case of Joseph (Before the Law), his brothers’ action of throwing him into a well is echoed by the sailors throwing Jonah overboard into the great fish (Under the Law).  And both of them find their New Testament echo in the Entombment of Jesus, which appears in the middle register.
Nicholas of Verdun
Joseph Cast into the Well

Klosterneuburg Altar top level
Mosan, 1181
Klosterneuburg (Austria)
Klosterneuburg Abbey
Nicholas of Verdun
Entombment of Jesus
Klosterneuburg Altar middle level
Mosan, 1181
Klosterneuburg (Austria)
Klosterneuburg Abbey
Nicholas of Verdun
Jonah Throw
Klosterneuburg Altar bottom level
Mosan, 1181
Klosterneuburg (Austria)
Klosterneuburg Abbey
Nicholas of Verdun
Klosterneuburg Altar
Mosan, 1181
Klosterneuburg (Austria)
Klosterneuburg Abbey
This photo shows the three-layered composition
of the scenes in question, but not the 
entire altarpiece,














This idea of types continued throughout the middle ages and was one of the principal ways in which people thought when reading the Bible.3




It was not an invention of the medieval mind, however, for it was also in the minds of the New Testament writers when they wrote what became the Gospels and Epistles.
Some examples are:

  • Romans 5:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 where Adam is seen as a type of Christ; 
  • Matthew 12:38-42 and Luke 11:29-32 where Jonah is called a sign for what Jesus predicts will happen when he is entombed (see Sign of Jonah); 
  • Matthew 2:15-18, referring to the Flight into Egypt and the Massacre of the Innocents by Herod the Great; 
  • John 3:14-15, in which Jesus compares his coming death on the cross to the brazen serpents set up by Moses, not as a cure for snake bites but as a cure for death itself;
  • John 6:25-66, in which Jesus describes himself to the manna that fed the Isrealites on their wanderings and is rejected for this by many of his followers.

The idea of types was not confined to scholarly discussion or to monastic patronage.  It appears very widely in such books as the Biblia pauperum, which translates as the Bible of the Poor or the Speculum humanae salvationis (the Mirror of Human Salvation).  
Rambures Master, Joseph Cast into the Well, Entombment of
Jesus, Jonah Cast into the Sea
From Biblia pauperum
French (Hesdin or Amiens), c.1470
The Hague, Museum Meermano-Westreenianum
MS MMW 10 a 15, fol. 33r
Rambures Master, Joseph Sold to the Traders,
Jesus Betrayed by Judas, Joseph Resold to Potiphar
From Biblia pauperum
French (Hesdin or Amiens), c.1470
The Hague, Museum Meermano-Westreenianum
MS MMW 10 a 15, fol. 28r


Joseph Cast into the Well and Jonah Cast into the Sea
From Speculum humanae salvationis
English, 1350-1400
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 400, fol. 15
Joseph Cast into the Well and Jonah Cast into the Sea
From Speculum humanae salvationis
Italy (Bologna), 1350-1375
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 593, fol. 21v



















































These were books, often produced and illustrated very cheaply, that were widely available all over medieval Europe for the use of the laity, many of whom may not have been able to read Latin or to read at all.  There are many examples of the use of types in these works, sometimes including all three layers of meaning, sometimes only two.


 It is, therefore, not correct to say that medieval people were uninformed about the Bible or its stories or their meaning.  This information was widely available whether in stone, or glass, painted on walls or as miniatures in prayer books or in picture books such as the Biblia pauperum, Bible moralisée and Speculum humanae salvationis (Mirror of Human Salvation) and various historical books, all of which were written in the vernacular languages. 4
Mazarine Master and Collaborators, Sacrifice of Isaac and Joseph Cast into the Well
From Voyages, Livre des merveilles by Jean de Mandeville
French (Paris), 1410-1412
Paris, Bibliotheque national de France
MS Francais 2810, fol. 167





The story of Joseph, his mistreatment by his brothers, his remarkable rise from slave to great man, his loving act of forgiveness and reconciliation were well known to all.
 
© M. Duffy, 2016
________________________________________________________________
  1. Smith, Kathryn A.. “History, Typology and Homily: The Joseph Cycle in the Queen Mary Psalter”.Gesta Vol. 32.2 (1993): p. 152. 
  2. For a description of the program and for translations of the texts used in the altarpiece, see http://v1.elfieraymond.com/altar/
  3. Maas, Anthony. "Biblical Exegesis." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.21 Feb. 2016 .http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05692b.htm
  4. Morey, James H.. "Peter Comestor, Biblical Paraphrase, and the Medieval Popular Bible." Speculum, Vol. 68, 1, (January 1993), pp. 6-35.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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