The Silent Knight: A History of St. Joseph as Depicted in Art by Elizabeth Lev

(Manchester: Sophia, 2021), 227

Favorite St. Joseph Art

Dream of Joseph

Dream of Joseph by Domenico Guidi. Carmelite Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. Cited in The Silent Knight, 48.


Nativity (1403), Conrad von Soest. Cited in The Silent Knight, 71.

Adoration of the Child with St. Jerome

Adoration of the Child with St. Jerome, Bernardino Pinturicchio. Rome. Cited in The Silent Knight, 90.

Marriage of the Virgin

Marriage of the Virgin, Rosso Fiorentino. Cited in The Silent Knight, 107.

Saint Joseph and the Christ Child

Saint Joseph and the Christ Child (1666), Bartolome Esteban Murillo. Cited in The Silent Knight, 123.

Rest on the Flight into Egypt

Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1597), Carravaggio. Cited in The Silent Knight, 143.

Death of St. Joseph

Death of St. Joseph, Guiseppe Maria Crespi. Cited in The Silent Knight, 156.

Joseph, Universal Patron

Joseph, Universal Patron, Guiseppe Rollini. Cited in The Silent Knight, 175.

St. Joseph and the Christ Child

tu eris super domum meam, you will be over my house
St. Joseph and the Christ Child, Francesco Grandi. Cited in The Silent Knight, 179.

Holy Family

Holy Family, Anonymous. Cited in The Silent Knight, 193.


  • Artists are "mute theologians" (3)
  • "Joseph is a beacon in an era that undervalues fatherhood, denigrates masculinity, and ridicules chastity." (5)

Chapter 1: The Elusive Saint

Summary: Joseph was not depicted for some time while points of Christ and Mary were settled in the early church, but made a triumphant entry into Christian art in the mosaics of St. Mary Major.

  • Joseph stood aside to let Mar's purity shine forth
  • The Old Testament Joseph distributed bread in times of famine; the New Testament Joseph brings Jesus the bread into Egypt (16)

Chapter 2: The Enigmatic Elder

Summary: As Marian devotion developed, Joseph was often ostracized or characterized as old or glum and troubled to highlight her purity.

  • A cult of Joseph existed in the East far before the West

Chapter 3: The Silent Knight

Summary: Bernard promoted Joseph as a model of chivalry and "dreamer" or contemplative. But his dreams always lead to action and he both loves truth and takes up the demands of love.

  • St. Bernard of Clairvaux: "The first Joseph was faithful to his master and treated his wife with honor. The second, too, was the most chaste guardian of his bride." (41)
  • The sleeping Joseph illustrates contemplative prayer
  • St. Gertrude of Helfta had a vision in which Mary revealed to her the heavenly glory of St. Joseph

Chapter 4: Joseph and the Mendicants

Summary: In the middle ages the Franciscans and Dominicans spread the cult of St. Joseph (establishing his March 19th feast) and commissioned art that featured him.

  • Many nativity/manger scenes depict tomb imagery as foreshadowing of Christ's passion (55)
  • St. Bonaventure turned Joseph in to a household name
  • Roger Bacon (Franciscan friar, medieval philosopher): taught the four methods of scriptural exegesis—literal, allegorical, moral, mystical (57)
  • St. Margaret of Cortona had a special devotion to St. Joseph

Chapter 5: Fool for Christ

Summary: The late middle ages showed some depictions of a "clown" or "clueless" Joseph, but his served to allow common people to relate to the sacred mysteries and demonstrated the importance of his humble service to the Holy Family.

  • Joseph's humble service is the foundation of the Holy Family
  • Joseph was a "regular guy in extraordinary company"
  • Pope Paul VI: "St. Joseph is the model of those humble ones that Christianity raises up to great destinies;...he is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ, there is no need of great things—it is enough to have the common, simple and human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic." (79)

Chapter 6: The Papal Alter Ego

Summary: After the early Renaissance tumult of the papacy, Joseph was lifted up as a new model for the popes to serve and protect the Church as Joseph did the Holy Family.

  • Jean Gerson wrote the Josephina: epic poem of Joseph in the style of the Reading Notes/~Aeneid (87)
  • Peter's colors in art are blue and yellow

Chapter 7: Renaissance Mr. Right

Summary: Around the Reformation, Joseph was lifted up as a model husband.

  • Pope Leo XIII on the Chastity of Joseph and Mary: "The consummation of their love was in Jesus" (111)

Chapter 8: St. Joseph Goes for Baroque

Summary: After Trent, Joseph was also emphasized as a model of Fatherhood.

  • St. Teresa of Ávila: "I have not known anyone truly devoted to him, and rendering him special services, who has not advanced more in virtue." (114)
  • Jesus seems to say in St. Joseph and the Child Jesus by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo: "I trusted Joseph in times of danger. Shouldn't you?"

Chapter 9: Domestic Bliss

Summary: Scenes of the Holy Family grew as Joseph replaced John the Baptist.

  • Rest on the Flight into Egypt is Caravaggio's first religious work

Chapter 10: Master of the Ars Moriendi

Summary: Joseph as the patron of death,. St. Robert Bellarmine: to die well, one must live well, and to live well, one must die to oneself.

  • The Ars Moriendi was a handbook of sorts on how to die a holy death

Chapter 11: Missionary Man

Summary: Devotion and art of Joseph spread as he was chosen as patron for missions to the Americas and Asia.

Chapter 12: He's Got the Whole World in His Hands

Summary: With the loss of the Papal States, we turned to Joseph as the patron of the universal church.

  • Gregory XVI promoted the Seven Sundays devotion
  • Guiseppe Rollini was taken in by St. John Bosco and produced the magnificent Joseph, Universal Patron

Chapter 13: The Labors of St. Joseph

Summary: As patron of workers, Joseph shows us how our work both provides and is part of the conquest of sin.

  • Joseph's industriousness became an example of how to ward off the temptation of evil

Chapter 14: Go to Joseph!

Summary: Lay people need to encourage artists by commissioning works for the home.

Topic: St. Joseph, Sacred Art

Source: Madj


New Words

  • thaumaturgic: miraculous (15)
  • acephalus/acephalous: headless (55)
  • hagiography: biography of a saint (61)

Created: 2022-03-19-Sat
Updated: 2023-01-07-Sat