Sunday, June 19, 2011


Title: St Joseph and the Infant Christ
Artist: Giovanni Battista Gaulli
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 127 x 97.2 cm
Date: c. 1670-85
Location: Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.


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). 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.

This intimate painting, with St. Joseph cradling the Christ child while bathed in a gentle light from above, provides a characteristic example of Baciccio's style of easel painting, which is vigorously Baroque in design and conception. The dynamic folds of drapery which envelop the figures are profoundly sculptural, and Baciccio's native Genoese traditions are evident in the dark background, the use of highly saturated, warm colors and the broad, painterly handling.

Giovanni Battista Gaulli (May, 1639 – April, 1709), also known as Baciccio, Il Baciccio or Baciccia (all Genoese nicknames for Giovanni Battista), was a painter of the Italian High Baroque verging onto that of the Rococo. Gaulli was born in Genoa, his Genoa a cosmopolitan Italian artistic center open to both commercial and artistic enterprises from north European countries, including countries with non-Catholic populations such as England and the Dutch provinces. He soon, however, moved to Rome. In 1662, he was accepted into the Roman artists' guild, the Accademia di San Luca (Academy of Saint Luke), where he was to later hold several offices. At his height, Gaulli was one of Rome's most esteemed portrait painters, though he is best known for his grand, Gianlorenzo Bernini-influenced illusionistic vault fresco in the church of the Gesù in Rome.

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