Monday, December 7, 2009

The Dream of Saint Joseph

Title: The Dream of Saint Joseph

Artist: Philippe de Champaigne

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 210 x 156 cm

Date: 1642-3

Location: National Gallery, London.

Matthew 1:18-21 describes how Joseph was pledged to be married to Mary, but before they came together he learned that she was with child. Because Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, which means the Lord saves.

The basic account of the virgin birth is from an earlier tradition than either of the Gospels that describe Jesus' infancy; neither Gospel is clearly dependent on the other. Members of Jesus' family remained in positions of prominence in early Christianity when this pre-Matthew tradition (shared with Luke) was circulating. But Matthew is less concerned to prove the virgin birth to his audience, which both accepted Jesus as Messiah and acknowledged the miraculous. Matthew is more interested in teaching, and an important lesson his narrative teaches is that Jesus' birth fulfills Scripture. Immediately following the this account of the dream that alerts Joseph to the true nature of his betrothed's pregnancy, it is written in Matthew 1:22-23 that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ —which means, "God with us."

Champaigne painted this subject at least three times. The example pictured above was likely commissioned for the now demolished church of the Minimes near the present Place des Vosges, Paris.

Philippe de Champaigne (26 May 1602 – 12 August 1674) was a Flemish-born French Baroque era painter, a major exponent of the French school. Throughout his career he made many official commissions, for monasteries, for the Church, and for Louis XIII. He collaborated with Nicolas Poussin in decorating the Luxembourg Palace, then worked for the queen mother, Marie de Medicis, for Louis XIII, and after 1635 primarily for the king's chief minister, Cardinal Armand Richelieu, for whom he decorated the Palais Royal, the dome of the Sorbonne, and other buildings.

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