Joseph Telling His Dreams is listed in the catalogue of 18th-century art historian Adam Bartsch as number B037. A third state print is featured in Rembrandt by Mariët Westermann, page 221.
This extraordinary and highly important etching was created by the revered Dutch Old Master, Rembrandt Van Rijn. Entitled Joseph Telling His Dreams, this highly detailed composition is an outstanding representation of the painter's skill as an engraver. This etching is known as a third state lifetime impression, meaning that the original etching, the first state, was altered twice by Rembrandt himself. Originally etched in 1638, this third and final state was made around 1641, the same year as the birth of his son, Titus, and the year before the death of his wife, Saskia. In addition, the printing quality and the paper structure also suggest that this is a lifetime impression.
Though one of Rembrandt's evocative Biblical subjects, this diminutive ink on paper print displays the intimate naturalism for which his work is known. The child Joseph sits in the center, while his elders surround him, some listening intently to his words and others talking among themselves. Rembrandt's characteristic sense of humor also comes through even in this solemn composition, as a small dog in the foreground sits diligently cleaning himself. This etching is also extremely rare in that it is one of the very few that is based on one of Rembrandt's paintings.
The son of a miller, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is believed to have been born in Leiden on July 15, 1606. He studied first at the Latin School, and then was enrolled at the University of Leiden at the age of 14. He soon left to study art - first with a local master, Jacob van Swanenburch, and then, in Amsterdam, with Pieter Lastman, known for his historical paintings. Rembrandt was an exceptionally gifted student, and mastered his art in a mere six months. Now 22 years old, he returned to Leiden, and was soon so highly regarded that he was able to take students of his own.
Though known today primarily for his paintings, Rembrandt's fame was spread outside of the Netherlands by his etchings. He made hundreds of etchings for most of his career, from 1626-1660, when he was forced to sell his presses. He did etchings of a number of subjects, including self-portraits, biblical subjects, saints and allegories, and his work was avidly admired and collected, even during his lifetime. These small works of art were considered beautifully executed, and done with excellent taste.
The print medium allowed artists to experiment in a way that painting did not, especially since they were rarely done on commission, and thus did not have to conform to someone else's tastes. Rembrandt was known to be even more innovative in his etching than most artists. He did not engage a professional printmaker, preferring to print and sell his etchings himself, while keeping the plates to rework and reprint. He almost never reproduced his own paintings or drawing. He was also known to have invented his own particular method of etching, creating prints that exuded spontaneity and vigor.
Rembrandt's etchings were included in the seminal, 20-volume catalogue Le Peintre graveur, compiled by Austrian artist and scholar Adam Bartsch. This pioneering work in the systematic study of Dutch, Flemish, German, and Italian painter-engravers from the 15th to the 17th century is the foundation of the history of printmaking.
Rembrandt's work has been featured in countless exhibitions.
Dictionary of Artists, 2006, E. Bénézit
Rembrandt, 2000, Mariët Westermann