The Bible describes how Joseph's jealous brothers, having sold him into slavery, 'took Joseph's coat and killed a kid of the goats and dipped the coat in the blood' before bringing it to their father and claiming that he had been killed by a wild animal. In his 1865 catalogue Brown describes the brothers individually: 'the cruel Simeon stands in the immediate foreground half out of the picture, he looks at his father guiltily and already prepared to bluster ... . The leonine Judah just behind him, stands silently watching the effect of Levi's falsity and jeering levity on their father; Issacher the fool sucks the head of his shepherd's crook, and wonders at his father's despair' (The Exhibition of Work and other Paintings, 1865). The only figure in the scene able to detect their deceit is the dog sniffing the blood, which he 'recognises as not belonging to man.'
Although Dalziels' Bible Gallery was brought out in 1881 Brown's designs were made in the early 1860s and show the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite movement on Brown's illustrations. Like all three of Brown's illustrations for the Bible Gallery, Joseph's Coat shows figures claustrophobically compressed within a small space which is stuffed with minute details. In order to remain as realistic as possible Brown used a landscape from the Holy Land for the background. Although he had not travelled to the Middle East himself, he copied a watercolour study of the hills above Jerusalem, entitled The Well of Enrogel (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston), painted by his friend Thomas Seddon in the summer of 1855. The competitiveness between artists in the Pre-Raphaelite circle can be seen from Holman Hunt's reaction to the design when he first saw it as a painting in progress. Hunt who had travelled with Seddon and no doubt felt he had superior knowledge of the Near East, 'carped at the introduction of the dog, the touch of which might be considered a defilement' however, he later retracted his statement in a letter, citing other biblical sources and remembering that he had himself seen the dogs allowed to exercise their natural instincts as watchdogs' (Mary Bennett in The Pre-Raphaelites, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1984, p. 207).