CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Yusuf and Zulaikha. A History of Influence Among India, Persia, and Europe

Presentation: 11 June - 7 September 2014

This one-room, ‘cabinet’ exhibition compares versions of the story of Joseph from the Torah, the Old Testament, and the Koran as portrayed in European, Persian, and Indian paintings. At the same time, the exhibition highlights the reciprocal influence at work between East and West, both in the reference to Indian visual culture in Rembrandt’s work as well as the inclusion of European imagery in the Indo-Islamic Mughal Empire.

The first part of the exhibition focuses on the relationship between Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, who is unnamed in the Bible but known as Zulaikha in the Near East. In the Protestant context, the story illustrates the virtue of chastity, while in the Persian version it is an epic love story. The exhibition’s second part reveals Rembrandt’s study of contemporary miniatures from the Mughal Empire in order to better identify Joseph with his historical origins in the Near East. It also shows how Indian visual culture integrated Christian drawings during the same time period.

The various representations of Joseph’s story come from five Berlin collections. Taken together, they transcend the traditional boundaries between collections, and uncover relationships among distinct visual cultures. The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between the Kupferstichkabinett of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and various research projects on transcultural art history: Kosmos/Ornatus (DFG/FU-Berlin), Sehen im Vergleich (Einstein Stiftung Berlin), and Connecting Art Histories in the Museum (KHI-MPI Florence).