Sunday, June 20, 2010

St Joseph and the Infant Jesus

Title: St Joseph and the Infant Jesus

Artist: Jusepe de Ribera

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 126 x 100cm

Date: 1632

Location: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

St. Joseph, also known as Joseph of the House of David, Joseph the Betrothed, or Joseph the Worker is the husband of the Virgin Mary, the foster father of Jesus, and head of the Holy Family. Joseph is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches. The gospels describe Joseph as a "tekton" (τεκτων); traditionally the word has been taken to mean "carpenter", though the Greek term is much less specific. It cannot be translated narrowly; it evokes an artisan with wood in general, or an artisan in iron or stone. Very little other information on Joseph is given in the Gospels, but the little there is describes well enough who he was: "a righteous man" (Matthew 1:18).

In this intimate painting, St. Joseph, bathed in a gentle golden light that falls from above, holds a flowered staff. According to apocryphal sources, suitors for the Virgin Mary’s hand were to present rods to the high priest of the Temple. When Joseph’s rod bloomed, he was identified as her betrothed. Here he is accompanied by the Christ Child, who offers him a basket with carpentry tools, alluding to his step-father’s profession. St. Joseph, as patron Saint of fathers, serves as an example about the importance of commitment to marriage, the family, and the importance of living an unstained moral life.

Jusepe (or José) de Ribera (January 12, 1591 - September 2, 1652), was a Spanish painter, etcher, and draughtsman, active for all his known career in Italy, where he was called 'Lo Spagnoletto' (the Little Spaniard). Little is known of his life before he settled in Naples in 1616, which at the time was a Spanish possession. Naples was then one of the main centres of the Caravaggesque style, and Ribera is often described as one of Caravaggio's followers. Ribera’s work, however, tends to be much more individualistic than that of most Caravaggesque artists, particularly in his vigorous and scratchy handling of paint. Similarly, though he undoubtedly painted some powerful pictures of typically Caravaggesque themes, he was equally capable of great tenderness, and his work is remarkable for his feeling of individual humanity.

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