In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, an angel appears to the Virgin Mary’s husband, Joseph, in a dream. Champaigne shows the angel gesturing towards both heaven and the Virgin Mary, confirming that Christ has been conceived through the Holy Ghost. Kneeling in front of an open Bible, Mary glances towards the angel, her arms crossed over her chest.
Joseph was the patron saint of workers, particularly carpenters and joiners. He is surrounded by craftsman’s tools and portrayed as a youthful rather than elderly man, as was more common. The ornately carved chair and deeply padded cushion on which he rests his head are at odds with the simplicity of his yellow cloak and sandals. His appearance signifies his humility, which the viewer would have been encouraged to follow.
This subject was painted frequently during the seventeenth century, and an annual day of devotion to Saint Joseph (19 March) was introduced in 1621.
According to Saint Matthew’s Gospel (1: 20-1), an angel appeared to Saint Joseph in a dream to confirm that the Virgin Mary had conceived Christ through the Holy Ghost. Champaigne shows the angel suspended above Joseph and surrounded by a soft ray of light, pointing with one hand to heaven and with the other to Mary – a gesture often seen in biblical paintings. Kneeling in front of an open Bible, Mary glances towards the angel, her arms crossed and held against her chest.
Joseph was the patron saint of workers, particularly carpenters and joiners. Scattered on the floor are his tools: a wooden mallet, chisel and axe. He is shown as a youthful rather than elderly man, as was more common. The chair, with its ornately carved arms and legs and deeply padded and tasselled cushion, on which Joseph rests his head, are at odds with the simplicity of his yellow cloak and sandals. His appearance signifies his humility, which the viewer would have been encouraged to follow. Champaigne’s figures were typically inspired by classical sculpture, and the drapery here appears solid and arranged in precise, large folds.
This subject was painted frequently during the seventeenth century. It was promoted by, among others, Saint François de Sales (1567–1622) and Pope Gregory XV (1554–1623), who in 1621 introduced an annual Saint Joseph’s day (19 March).
Like most of Champaigne’s paintings, this one is not signed or dated. A painting of this subject by the artist was mentioned in late eighteenth-century guidebooks as being in a chapel in the now demolished monastery of the Minims, near the Place Royale, Paris. Champaigne also painted this episode for the Carmelites of the Faubourg St-Jacques (the painting is now in the Louvre) and the Tuboeuf chapel in the church of the Oratory in the rue St-Honoré, both in Paris.
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