Final Thoughts on St. Joseph in Christian Literature and Art

In the earliest Christian Gospels, those around Joseph and Jesus do not perceive them as anything other than father and son.  In fact, the earliest Gospel narratives, only give evidence that Jesus was always considered from his birth through his adulthood as the son of Joseph, Jesus ben Joseph, as he would have been identified in his community and culture. This is not surprising, since this is how Joseph early on had been directed and had come to understand his relationship to Jesus as well.  Early in Matthew’s Gospel, in the first dream and Annunciation, Joseph is directed to accept Mary who is with child as his wife and to name the child she carries Jesus, thus to legally consummate his marriage to Mary and to accept Mary’s child as his own.  Therefore, when Joseph obeys both commands of the angel, he acknowledges his special relationship with Mary and the child as well as his responsibility for both of them.  Likewise, Joseph’s parental role is additionally affirmed in Luke 2, where Joseph registers the pregnant Mary as his wife and is recognized by the shepherds and later by Simeon and Anna as her husband and the father of Jesus.  Finally in John, Joseph’s parental role in relationship to Jesus is also acknowledged by his and Jesus’ fellow citizens and acquaintances, even as Jesus’ ministry begins.  There is nothing to suggest that Joseph did not act as any loving Hebrew father would and assumed the initial responsibilities that his tradition and religion required him to assume.

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The Representations of St. Joseph in the Gospels of Luke and John and Their Effect Upon Christian Art

In this third lecture of this series on The Other Person in the Picture, we focus upon the Lukan and Johannine depictions of Joseph and the artistic presentations in history based on them.

In contrast to the Matthean narrative of the birth and infancy of Jesus, the Lukan account is longer and more detailed and mentions the Annunciation to Mary, the visitation of Mary with Elizabeth and Zachariah, the Song or Magnificat of Mary, Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, the Annunciation to the shepherds, the adoration of the shepherds, the circumcision and naming of Jesus, the presentation in the temple, and Jesus’ appearance with the teachers at age 12.

Material found in 68 verses in the first two chapters of this canonical gospel as such a careful reading of Luke reveals that Joseph is also held in high esteem in this particular text. As was the case with Matthew, this can be seen in the number of times Luke mentions Joseph by name and makes direct references to him identifies him as the father, or parent, of Jesus, conjoins him with Mary as her partner and husband and conjoins him with Jesus as his father in this regard, it is important to acknowledge several facts.  First, Joseph is mentioned by name five times and referenced as a subject or object 32 additional times.  Second, he is explicitly identified as the father of Jesus two times, and in the latter reference, it is Mary who uses the designation in response to Jesus.  In turn, Jesus is identified as Joseph’s son twice. 

Fourth [sic], Joseph is specifically represented as the de facto father of Jesus on numerous occasions, thus from the earliest references in chapter 1, in which Joseph is identified as the betrothed of Mary and as a member of the house of David the portrait reveals a Joseph formally identified before Mary is formally introduced.  The introduction of Joseph’s lineage and the emphasis on connections between Joseph and the Messiah of the house of David, revealed the priority Joseph has over those associated with the priestly orders of Abijah and Aaron including even Mary. The portrait not only underscores Joseph’s heritage and its significance for Jesus identity and role but it also emphasizes Joseph’s righteousness obedience and parental affection and concern.

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The Portrayal of Joseph in Nicola Pisano’s Nativity Panels in the Pulpit in the Baptistry of Pisa

Panel from the Baptistry of Pisa: the Annunciation to Mary (Mary in the center with Gabriel to the top right of her), the Nativity (center-right), the Annunciation to the Shepherds (top and bottom right), and the Bathing of the Christ child (bottom-center left) all together.

Nicola Pisano created six marble panels in his pulpit in the Baptistry of Pisa in 1260. Three of the panels represent several different events recorded in the canonic accounts of the nativity and childhood of Jesus found in the first two chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke as well as one event referenced in later apocryphal narratives.

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The Portrayal of Joseph the Carpenter in Nicola and Giovanni Pisano’s Duomo Pulpit in the Siena Cathedral

Between 1265 and 1268, Nicola Pisano sculpted the seven marble panels of the Duomo pulpit in the Siena Cathedral with the assistance of his son, Giovanni.  However, only two, the first of the Visitation, the Nativity, and the Annunciation of Shepherds, and the second, of the Adoration of the Magi, include representations of the figure of Joseph.

Marble panel of different Bible scenes: the Visitation (top left), the Nativity (center), the Bathing of the Christ-child (bottom left), and the Annunciation to the shepherds (right half).  Mary and Joseph border the left and right of all the figures inside.
The Visitation, Bathing of the Christ Child, Nativity, and the Annunciation to the Shepherds
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