Tracing St. Joseph through the pages of art history

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At the end of 2020, Pope Francis published an Apostolic Letter dedicated to St. Joseph, the patron of the universal Church.

December 9, 2021
God entrusted him with the most precious treasures—Jesus and Mary—and he faithfully responded in full with courage, with tenderness, with a father's heart.

The Pope's description of St. Joseph as an unassuming hero inspired art historian Elizabeth Lev to write “The Silent Knight: A history of St. Joseph as depicted in art.”

Author, “The Silent Knight”
He really is the knight that is there when the Church faces an era of corruption in the 10th century; when the Church faces challenges to its teaching on marriage; when the Church faces the fear of death and the loss of the sense of what it means to go from this world to the next. Joseph is the one that we call on.

Lev's book goes in chronological order, starting with early Christian art, through the centuries, all the way to contemporary art.

Author, “The Silent Knight”
There are some artists who have made very beautiful forays into representing St. Joseph today. And I truly hope that this invitation on the part of the Holy Father will be picked up by artists to start rethinking Joseph as we do. There is great potential in this day and age for creating an imagery of Joseph that could speak to an age that has so many issues.

Lev says St. Joseph is a dynamic and fundamental part of the Gospel narrative. Her book shows how his different qualities are brought out by different artists.

One of her favorite representations of the saint is Guido Reni's painting, “St. Joseph and the Christ Child.”

Author, “The Silent Knight”
What I love about it is Joseph. He's so absorbed in looking at the Christ Child, and the Christ Child playfully reaches up to play with this fuzzy beard. And there's something so intimate about that, something that really invites us, the way that St. Bernardino invited us, to think about what it was like to be Joseph holding the Christ Child.

St. Joseph is only mentioned a few times in the Bible, and he never speaks. But “The Silent Knight” is an example of the tremendous impact the saint has had on Christianity and the history of art.


Sophia Institute




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