CARLO CIGNANI (Bologna 1628 - 1719 Forli)

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife
Oil on canvas, 270 x 195 cm

Private collection

Comparative Literature
D. Benati in Corpo, Amore e Sentimento, opere di antichi maestri dal XVI al XIX secolo, exhibition catalogue edited by A. Marchi, Galleria San Marino, 27th July - 18th September 2011, p. 40;
M. Pulini, Lo studiolo di Baratti, Cesena 2010, p. 24.

D. Benati, 3rd November 2010. 


As a member of the Accademia Clementina in Bologna, Carlo Cignani was one of the most prominent artists in Italy between 17th and 18th Century and deeply admired by many European courts at the time. Cignani obtained his artistic education from Giovanni Battista Cairo and Francesco Albani, from whom he acquired the compositional elegance of his subjects. This can be admired in the frescos which decorate the Farnese room in Palazzo Pubblico and in the building of the Archiginnasio  (c.1660), both in Bologna. Equipped with an eclectic approach, his manner soon incorporated elements derived from other valuable sources, such as Guido Reni, Guercino, Correggio, the Carraccis and Melozzo da Forlì.After an early Baroque phase spent in Bologna, he moved to Rome in 1662, to then travel back to Bologna in 1665 and subsequently to Parma. Towards the end of his career, he settled in Forlì where he produced his masterpiece, the fresco decorating the cupola in the chapel dedicated to the Virgin (Cappella della Madonna del Fuoco) within the local cathedral.

The present work is one of the most stunning paintings by Cignani. It represents the famous biblical episode of Joseph who, after entering the house of the Egyptian dignitary Putifar's as one of his servants, rejects his wife who had tried to seduce him. The woman, deeply offended by his decision, then denounced Joseph accusing him of attempted rape. As a consequence of the above, Joseph was later jailed.

Such a subject enjoyed an incredible popularity in the Baroque age, for both the elevating, moral message attached to the story and embodied by Joseph, together with the opportunity the scene offered to artists to portray a seduction scene with a female nude at its centre. Cignani’s ability to re-discover the artistic tradition of the previous generations of painters between 16th and 17th Century definitely allowed him to become a leading figure of the new Bolognese School and granted him great popularity in the whole of Europe.