Portrait of Saint Joseph. Guido Reni (1575-1642)
The seventeenth-century saw a great development in the devotion to St Joseph. Of course the Church had always honoured Mary’s husband and the father of Jesus. However, the Post-Tridentine church sought to remind the faithful through paintings of the fidelity of this holy man. Guido Reni a native of the north Italian city of Bologna painted some of the finest images of St Joseph. In contrast to earlier images of the saint, Reni depicted St Joseph with the Christ child or alone as we see here. The detail reproduced reveals an older man, his downturned gaze directed to an open book (the lower section of the painting is not included in this reproduction). Reni combines a realistic portrayal of an older man – note his white beard and lined brow – with the symbols of sanctity like the thin bold border of the halo that surrounds his head. This combination of the human and the sacred helps evoke the humanity of St Joseph for the viewer. Reni imagines a saint quietly attending to his reading (a detail not included in the reproduction). For the seventeenth-century viewer, perhaps a lay-person, this type of activity might well prompt the spectator to remember the devotion of St Joseph to his family.
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