Poor Old Joseph

Wandering in the Pinacoteca in Siena, Italy, I started feeling sorry for Joseph, the often-neglected member of the Holy Family. It seems that in the 14th and 15th centuries, at least in Italy, there was a tradition that Joseph was an exhausted old man. His wife Mary is always shown as a pretty young woman, but poor Joseph  in these paintings looks tired and put-upon.


Taddeo di Bartolo, Adoration of the Shepherds, Siena 1362-1422

img_3840

Joseph disappears in the Gospels after the episode where Jesus stays behind in the Temple after a family visit, and his worried parents have to search for him. In the serene Nativity scene above, are we to think of Joseph as the only one who foresaw the troubles ahead?

Here’s another worn-out Joseph:

Matteo di Giovanni, Adoration of the Shepherds, Siena, 1433-1495

img_3850

The Biblical story tells us that the Holy Family soon became a family of refugees fleeing persecution, traveling to Egypt to avoid the wrath of King Herod. Was Joseph resting up for the journey ahead?

And another image:


Pietro di Dominico, Adoration of the Shepherds with St. Paul, Siena, 1457-1502

img_3856

Here, the Three Kings are just arriving in the background. In the story, Joseph has already traveled far with a pregnant wife, and now he has an infant as well, and faces more trudging down a dirt road. Is Joseph thinking, “Enough with the gold, frankincense and myrhh.  How about a tent, a baby backpack and some down sleeping bags?”

In the painting below, Joseph has his walking stick at the ready.

img_3922
Giaccomo Pacchiarotti, Adoration of the Shepherds, Siena, 1474-1540

img_3926

In all the joy of the holidays, I’d like to remember those who are refugees, or old, or tired, or discouraged.  I’d like to remember those who stay in the background and do the heavy lifting. I’d like to remember those who are in over their heads for one reason or another. I’d like to remember those who stick around to clean up after everyone else has celebrated and headed home. I don’t know the theology that informed these paintings, but I have a lot of sympathy for Joseph.

IMG_4201

Simone di Filippo, Nativity, circa 1380, Bologna

img_1975

In my favorite fresco, a humble anonymous work I wrote about a few days ago, Joseph looks aged, but cheerful and downright sprightly.  That’s my wish for all of us. My post about this delightful fresco is at https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2015/12/21/a-medieval-dan…-for-christmas/

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s