The figure of St. Joseph in art


Saint Joseph, the putative father of Jesus, to whom the Church grants the role of "legitimate and natural custodian, head and defender of the Holy Family" (Encyclical Redemptoris Custos, 1989), has been represented on numerous occasions throughout the history of art, but the evolutionary process of his figure in art has been, to say the least, controversial.


Creation process of a polychrome carving of St. Joseph from its design to its final result. Granda Art Workshops


Until the end of the Middle Ages St. Joseph occupied a secondary place in art. We hardly find representations, except when it appears as an accidental character in some scenes of the life of Jesus. This is due to the fact that, at the beginning, the mission she played in the history of redemption, centered on the figure of Jesus and his mother, was not considered to be of major importance. As of XVIth century theology began to consider the dignity and holiness of the saint as a model husband, father and working man.largely as a result of the publication of the "Sum of the gifts of St. Joseph", work of a Dominican priest. At this time, devotion among the faithful grew and art began to extol him to the level of the great saints.

Saints such as the following contributed to the spread of the cult of St. Joseph Saint Teresa of Jesus y Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Saint Teresa consecrated to him the first Carmelite convent, in Avila, and most of her later foundations, and Saint Ignatius tried to spread the cult of Saint Joseph to the point that the Jesuits have a chapel dedicated to the saint in each of their churches. The two orders collaborated in the diffusion of the veneration of St. Joseph throughout Europe.

St. Joseph, ignored during the first centuries, came to be celebrated by Franciscans and Dominicans until Gregory XV proclaimed his feast for the whole church in 1621. His popularity among the faithful increased and his iconography became richer with the passing of time. In 1870 he was appointed Patron of the Universal Church.

16 03 2012 1 scaled
san jose angulo izquierdo
san jose with nic3b1o 1 scaled
san jose s cecilia scaled
427001 detail scaled
c2bf56c2bfc2bf scaled
427 003 120 scaled
427 004 scaled stew
1039 scaled
s jose mundelain scaled
usa 001


Artists have had to deal with the little information offered by the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew, the main sources of St. Joseph's life. On many occasions the character has been enriched with information offered by the apocryphal gospels.  

Around the year 1500 Joseph begins to appear as a protagonist and the repetitive and anodyne representations of the Saint are left behind. His appearance is of an old man, with a long beard and a wrinkled face, because of the need to strengthen the doctrine of Mary's virginity. From this time until the eighteenth century, different opinions coexisted on how it should be represented and the first representations of St. Joseph as a strapping young man, emphasizing his role as protector of the Virgin.

Already in the Middle Ages, devotion to the Holy Family began to be revived, partly thanks to the Franciscan meditations, but it was not until the 17th century, under the influence of the Jesuits, that the figure of St. Joseph was integrated into the Marian cycle, as a character of weight in artistic representations.

kazakhstan holy family
sweden san jose
08 final painting s joseph oratory lepelenburg ygoa


From the 16th century onwards, their own attributes also began to be identified: the almond rodsymbol of purity and chastity, and the carpenter's tools. Often there are representations of St. Joseph with the child in his arms, others with his hand on the child's shoulder, as a symbol of his status as teacher and conductor.

St. Joseph's clothes, which in the Middle Ages were short and close-fitting like those of artisans, changed over time to tunics and cloaks. In scenes such as the flight to Egypt, he can be found represented with the cloak and turban of travel.


Within Christian iconography, several devotional images of St. Joseph are treated in art.

St. Joseph with child in his arms

The dream of San José

The coronation of San José

The death of St. Joseph

guido reni saint joseph with child shermitage museum st petersburg 1635
vicente lopez porta a el sue o de san jos prado museum 1805
alonso cano death of saint john jes shermitage museum st petersburg 1635
zurbar nla coronaci n de san jos museum of fine arts of seville s

There are many other scenes in which the saint is represented and which make reference to evangelical passages:

The betrothal

The Nativity

The Epiphany

The flight to Egypt

The presentation of Jesus in the temple

gilarte mateo los desposorios de la virgen leo on canvas 1651
adoration of the shepherds murillo 1
adoration of the magi author sandro botticelli year 1475 technique tempera on panel renaissance style
murillo the flight to egypt 1645
the presentation of the child or the circumcision 16th century altarpiece of the circumcision in the circumcision chapel of the cathedral of albarrac n teruel


Share this:

C/ Galileo Galilei, 19.
28806, Alcalá de Henares,
Madrid. Spain
(+34) 91 802 36 55

Serving the Church with sacred art since 1891

Serving the Church with sacred art since 1891

C/ Galileo Galilei, 19.
28806, Alcalá de Henares,
Madrid. Spain
(+34) 91 802 36 55

Granda Art Workshops © Granda 2024
Terms and Conditions
Legal NoticePrivacy Policy
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram