JOSEPH INTERPRETS PHARAOH'S DREAM
Pen & ink with grey washes
7 x 9.5cm
The present work is a copy after Raphael's painting for the Papal Loggia in the Vatican, and dates from Northcote's trip to Italy between 1777-1780. During this time he made frequent trips to the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Palace, often in the company of the artist Prince Hoare, to copy the works of the Masters therein (1). During his time in Rome, Northcote also made copies in his own manner after his friend Johann Heinrich 'Henry' Fuseli (as did Prince Hoare) - an excellent example of one of these, comparable to the present work in its style and palette, can be found in the Ackland Art Museum of the University of North Caroline (Acc. No. 2009.29.1, The Witches fly off from Macbeth and Banquo).
We may gain some insight into the young Northcote's excitement at reaching Rome, where he engaged in serious study of the Italian Masters, from the later artist James Ward's biography of him:
"It soon became his chief delight in Rome to visit the Vatican. Within the lofty halls and chambers of the most extensive palace in the world, he never wearied of standing before the works of the old masters ; and, oftentimes, as he stood there alone, reverently contemplating the handiwork of Raphael and of Michael Angelo, it was only the strange shadows of evening and the gathering gloom of nightfall that would compel the young disciple to leave the silent galleries..." (2)
Northcote himself recalled the following about his time in the Vatican - then an entirely different experience to what modern-day tourists have to contend with:
"As I was anxious to make the most of my time at the Vatican, the Keeper indulged my love for the art by allowing me to remain there after the hour of closing. I used to lock the doors myself and take the keys to him after I had done. I often thus remained, surrounded by the grand and solemn works of Raphael, until it was quite dusk..." (3)
This drawing is part of a group recently acquired by the Nonesuch Gallery. They are believed to be early works by Northcote, the other drawings in this group possibly after drawings in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds, to whom Northcote was apprenticed. A similar work to the further works in this group can be found in the British Museum (2019,7015.426), which was acquired from Abbott & Holder (London).
(1) James Northcote, Memoir, British Library, Add Ms 47791, vol. ii.
(2) James Ward, Conversations of James Northcote, R. A. with James Ward, on art and artists, ed. Ernest Fletcher, London (1901), p.10
(3) Ibid., p.44