Potiphar stands poised to make a grand entrance in this costume painting by Belarussian artist Leon Bakst for the Ballets Russes’ 1914 production of Richard Strauss’s ballet Josephslegende (The Legend of Joseph) at the Paris Opera.
Having purchased Joseph from the slave traders to whom his brothers had sold him, the Egyptian official Potiphar brought him to work in his own house. Joseph excelled in his new position, so Potiphar “put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake” (Genesis 39:4–5). This prosperity, however, is not why the name of Potiphar is remembered. After seeing the handsome youth Joseph day in and day out, Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce him, but to no avail. Angry and embarrassed at being rejected by a mere servant, Potiphar’s wife decided to get her revenge by convincing her husband that Joseph had tried to sleep with her (Genesis 39:17–18). Despite the success of his household under Joseph’s service, Potiphar believed his wife’s lie and immediately had Joseph thrown into prison (Genesis 39:20).