The Fokine Era


Léon Bakst (1866-1924). La Légende de Joseph, Costume design for Potiphar’s Wife, 1914. Watercolor and pencil, highlighted with silver paint. Howard D. Rothschild Collection. pf MS Thr 414.4 (15). Bequest, 1989.

La Légende de Joseph

La Legende de Joseph was based on the Biblical legend of Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife.  In the ballet, the setting is moved to 16th century Venice, where Potiphar and his Wife have all the wealth in the world and are first shown in an opulent banquet hall, bored to distraction with the jewels and gold at their disposal.  The Wife’s interest is only aroused when a dancing slave boy, Joseph, is purchased by her husband.  In the second scene, she attempts to seduce the boy but he resists, terrified.  Enraged by his refusal, the Wife calls her guards and has Joseph brought before her husband, where he sentences the boy to death.  Wide eyed and youthful, Léonide Massine played the title character, his first major role for the Ballets Russes.  Potiphar’s wife joined in the illustrious company of Salomé, Cléopâtre, Thamar, and Zobeïde as one of the Ballets Russes famous femmes fatales.