Then they took Joseph’s tunic, slaughtered a kid, and dipped the tunic in the blood. They had the ornamented tunic taken to their father, and they said, ‘We found this. Please examine it; is it your son’s tunic or not?’ He recognized it, and said, ‘My son’s tunic! A savage beast devoured him! Joseph was torn by a beast!’ (Genesis 37-31-33)

The unbearable report of Joseph’s untimely death is brought to his adoring father Jacob along with his coat of many colors. The coat Jacob made for Joseph symbolized his intense connection with his beloved son. This bond is now severed forever; Joseph is no more, and the coat has been ravaged. In the biblical account, Rachel is not present. Rembrandt has chosen to include her, along with Jacob and two messengers, perhaps to intensify the impact of the devastating news. The utter horror of Jacob’s expression wordlessly conveys his anguish, which determines the tone of the painting.

Dr. Bryna Jocheved Levy

Photo courtesy of Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam.