Guido Reni (Bologna 1575-1642) St Joseph with the Infant Jesus
Guido Reni lived from 1575 to 1642 and painted mostly in Rome. He ran a busy studio engaged on commissions from many Italian cities. Born in Bologna into a family of musicians, Reni was, as a child of nine, apprenticed under the Bolognese studio of Denis Calvaert.
I especially like St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, painted in oil on canvas by this Bolognese painter. There is something captivating about this old father who holds baby Jesus. He is a handsome old man and he seems wise, but also vulnerable. To my opinion, Guido Reni has painted an older father who is well aware of the future of his baby. It is as if Joseph holds his treasure not only tenderly, but also in very high esteem.
Now look at baby Jesus. This isn’t a normal baby. It almost sits on Joseph’s hands and shows a remarkable awareness. As much as it is a baby, it is the spiritual master of Joseph already. Guido Reni also has given baby Jesus a lightness; not only by casting a bundle of light on the head and body of baby Jesus, but also by given this baby a beautiful glow. Reni’s baby Jesus shows in another way its ‘light’ too, by suggesting it is light-weighted. Joseph holds his baby as if baby Jesus weighs as much as a feather. This all adds to the impression Guido Reni aims for showing how remarkable baby Jesus was already as a baby.
I like to draw attention to the flower baby Jesus is holding. Most likely it is a lily. A lily symbolizes purity and integrity. In many paintings the Virgin Mary and other saints are portrayed with a lily. Baby Jesus holds the lily close to the heart of St. Joseph, or you could say, St. Joseph holds baby Jesus, who holds the lily. This important baby is safe in the hands of his father. We can trust Joseph to keep baby Jesus safe from being harmed as a child. Maybe Guido Reni gives baby Jesus to hold the lily close to Joseph as if to say thank-you for taking care.
In the back of this painting (I think) I see Maria being visited by an angel. This could be an annunciation to the blessed virgin Mary scene.
I could go on and on showing you how beautiful Joseph’s cloak is done. Or the technical skills of creating grey hair through darkening the background around the head of Joseph with a thick green forest scene. However, I stop and return to my drawing to finish my small interpretation of this painting. Enjoy my work-in-progress.
Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.
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I love your art history lessons. I studied the subject a long time ago in college, but it’s nice to see it again with new eyes and more life experience with your very apt descriptions and observations. This is such a masterful painting and so inspiring. Thanks!
Thank you, Linda!
I might devote more posts to Reni’s Joseph in the near future.
Also, I like the way Reni has painted baby Jesus and Joseph to appear more as ordinary earthly creatures with the playful baby as He appears to be curiously reaching for Joseph’s beard. A very nice and real painting. Thanks for the info.
I agree with Linda about your art history discussions I enjoy them immensely and always learn something. This painting is beautiful. There are so many Madonna and Child paintings that this interpretation of St.Joseph is remarkable for its transcendent echo of that familiar theme while focusing on St. Joseph’s gentle guardianship of the precious child.
Count me with Linda and Andrea. There is so much to be seen and known in the paintings you share, and it all escapes me until I read your words. When I happen on to a painting like this now, I try to channel my inner Paula, and succeed to a limited extent. I have much to learn, but I’m already more appreciative of the subtleties of such paintings.
What a careful analysis of this painting, which is quite wonderful … I must admit to a love of the ideal of St. Joseph. Such compassion and that shows to good effect here as well. Looks like your own version is coming along as well, Paula. 🙂
Thank you, Jamie. Yes, Joseph is depicted wonderfully in this painting.