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Moretto da Brescia, Saint Joseph

Key facts
Full title Saint Joseph
Artist Moretto da Brescia
Artist dates about 1498 - 1554
Series Shutters from a Triptych
Date made about 1540
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 153.6 × 54.1 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by the Misses Cohen as part of the John Samuel collection, 1906
Inventory number NG2092
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint Joseph
Moretto da Brescia

This is one of four panels that originally made up a pair of painted shutters to cover a central image, probably of the Virgin Mary crowned in the heavens. The outside of each shutter was decorated with a saint, the inside with an angel. When the shutters were closed, Saint Joseph would have been on the left.

Saint Joseph is more commonly portrayed as an elderly man, but here he is quite young, with a full dark beard and a turban. He appears like this in other paintings by Moretto.

Joseph’s staff is blossoming with flowers of the oleander plant, which is sometimes known in Italian as mazza di San Giuseppe (‘Staff of Saint Joseph’). The flowering rod represents the staff that broke into blossom to show that Joseph was chosen to marry the Virgin Mary, as told in the Golden Legend, a thirteenth-century compilation of stories about the saints.

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Shutters from a Triptych


These four paintings come from a pair of shutters that were painted on both sides. The angel facing right was originally on the reverse of the shutter painted with Saint Joseph, who has a dark beard and turban and holds a book and flowering rod. The angel facing left was on the reverse of the shutter painted with Saint Jerome, who wears an abbot’s hat and reads a book. The two shutters had been divided into four paintings by the mid-nineteenth century, probably to make them easier to display as gallery pictures.

In their original form, when the shutters were closed only Saint Joseph and Saint Jerome would have been visible. When they were open, the angels would have flanked a central image, most likely showing the Virgin Mary crowned or about to be crowned in the heavens. The shutters probably date from the end of Moretto’s career and may be by his workshop.