click to enlarge


Anton Raphael Mengs
German, 1728-1779

SN 328, oil on wood panel c. 1773

From: "The Pages"


Anton Raphael Mengs was a member of a German family of artists. The father was Ismael Mengs, court painter to the Elector of Saxony, Dresden. This ambitious father expected all of his children to become artists, and they received rigorous training. Anton married an Italian girl.

Anton worked and studied most of his life in Rome & Naples. He worked for a time, however, in Madrid as court painter & there his work eclipsed that of his rival, Tiepolo; he also strongly influenced Goya.

He was considered one of the most significant Neoclassical painters & theorists, influential through his writings as well as his painting.

Our painting illustrates the Book of Matthew, 2:13, where a dreaming Joseph is directed by an angel to take his family and flee into Egypt.

A few vestiges of Rococo styling are apparent in form and pastel color. The use of light and shade effects a startling contrast between the fair angel and the swarthy carpenter. Joseph has already laid aside his carpenter tool and taken up his walking staff in this quiet moment of repose. We see him portrayed with vivid realism: muscular arms, gnarled hands, bulging veins. His furrowed brow tell us he is concerned. The angel, on the other hand, looks made of porcelain, idealized, luminous. The windblown hair and pointing finger suggest that the message is one of haste. Mengs breaks completely with Baroque illusionism and treats the scene as if seen at normal eye level. Innovative composition.

Meng’s father chose Raphael for his son’s middle name, in admiration for the Renaissance artist’s talent and style. However, Anton’s meeting with the archeologist Johann Winkelmann in 1755, in Rome, conditioned Meng’s approach to the history, theory, and practice of painting and writing about art in the Neoclassical style. The classical revival was spearheaded by archaeological discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Dr Janson described this painting as “dazzlingly beautiful, with lyric color, and immaculate execution of vivid realism, showing the influence of Raphael.” The neoclassic style is apparent in the pose – a seated figure, lots of draperies, no great depth….like a frieze. There’s even a lingering debt to Baroque in the tension of the diagonals….all of which goes to prove that no period or artist stands alone without the past that makes the present possible.

John Ringling purchased Dream of Joseph in London, 1928, at Sotheby’s.

Additional Bibliography:
Janson’s History of Art.
Letter from John Ringling to a friend, about his trip to London in 1928.

Museum Label:
Artist: Anton Raphael Mengs
German, 1728-1779, active in Dresden, Rome and Madrid
Title: The Dream of Joseph
Date: c. 1773
Medium: Oil on wood panel
Dimensions: 43 3/4 x 34 in. (111.1 x 86.4 cm)
Credit Line: Bequest of John Ringling, 1936
Object Number: SN328