Once Joseph had a dream, which he told to his brothers; and they hated him even more. He said to them, ‘Hear this dream which I have dreamt.’ (Genesis 37-5-6)

Rembrandt’s portrayal of this biblical scene artfully employs facial expressions to bring the text to life. Joseph, the central focus of the scene, is totally engrossed in recounting the dream; his far-off gaze suggests that he is visualizing anew what he dreamt the night before. The attentive listeners include his father Jacob, the girl with the pearl earring – presumably his sister Dinah, and (say some authorities) his mother Rachel, who is situated in the distance in her bedroom (though according to scripture she is no longer alive at this time).

The expression on Jacob’s face indicates interest tempered with a modicum of skepticism. Note the brothers are closely gathered around Joseph. Has Rembrandt intentionally painted the brothers crowded around Joseph to implicitly verify the dream in which the sheaves of wheat encircle the central sheave? Their countenances reveal antagonism, disbelief, and mockery. This does not bode well for young Joseph, who is completely oblivious to the seeds of dissent he is sowing.

Dr. Bryna Jocheved Levy

Photo courtesy of Private Collection.