- St. Joseph was one of the suitors who brought rods to the temple to determine who would wed the Virgin Mary. That Joseph's rod flowered made clear that he was the one chosen. Pietro Perugino depicted the Marriage of the Virgin to Joseph in 1500-1504 (Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts) and Raphael in 1504 (Milan, Brera). Joseph was alarmed to hear that Mary was pregnant, as they had not consummated their relationship. An angel appeared to him and dissuaded him from divorcing her, explaining that her pregnancy was the work of the Holy Spirit. Joseph was present at Christ's birth and took his family to Egypt to escape the massacre of the innocents. He was also at Christ's Presentation in the Temple, as exemplified by Ambrogio Lorenzetti's painting of the subject of 1342 (Florence, Uffizi). After he and Mary find the 12-year-old Christ disputing with the doctors in the temple, Joseph disappears from the New Testament, save for a brief mention in the Gospel of Luke.The cult of St. Joseph had existed in the East since the fourth century. In the West, however, his veneration was not popularized until the 15th century and his feast was only introduced into the Roman calendar in 1479. In art, he gradually took on a more active role in images of the Holy Family. Examples include Michelangelo's Doni Tondo (c. 1503, Florence, Uffizi) where he helps the Virgin balance the Christ Child on her shoulder, Ludovico Carracci's Cento Madonna (1591; Cento, Museo Civico) where he leans his elbow on the Virgin's throne, Caravaggio's Rest on the Flight into Egypt (c. 1594; Rome, Galleria Doria-Pamphili) where he holds the music score for the music-playing angel who sooths the Christ Child to sleep, and La Tour's Christ and St. Joseph (1645; Paris, Louvre) where he engages in carpentry with the young Christ.
Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. Lilian H. Zirpolo. 2008.
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