Commissioned in 1656 by Pope Alexander VII, Joseph greeting his brothers was frescoed by Mola in a great gallery in the Quirinale Palace, the papal summer residence, and constitutes the artist’s most ambitious endeavor of his career (fig. 1; see Cocke, op. cit., no. 39). For this scene, the artist produced a large number of drawings, from early sketches to fully developed cartoons, devoting particular time and attention in planning the fresco, which occupies a prime location at the end wall of the gallery (A. Sutherland Harris, ‘Trois nouvelles études pour la fresque du Quirinal Joseph et ses frères’, Revue de l’art, no. 6, 1969, pp. 82-87). The present sheet records a late stage in the design process of the scene where Joseph has been separated from his brothers, here arranged into a single, cohesive group. The scene still retains a wider rectangular format, as opposed to the square one in the fresco; so the grouping would occupy the larger space, Mola used the tip of the brush to define thicker contours of the figures, drawn in his signature style with abbreviated forms, quick lines and parallel hatching. This important sheet is a testament to Mola's methodical - rather than virtuoso - approach to drawing. Moreover, it expresses the artist’s beneficial contact with the Roman cultural milieu of the Accademia di San Luca, the example of Raphael, and his relationships with Pietro Testa and with the younger Pietro da Cortona, who supervised the redecoration of the Quirinale.
Fig. 1. Pier Francesco Mola, Joseph greeting his brothers, Sala Gialla, Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome.