Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

(Seville, 1617 – 1682)

St Joseph with the Child Jesus

ca. 1650-1660

oil on canvas on board

29.7 x 24.5 cm

Inv. no. 2114

BBVA Collection Spain

This is a work of exquisite refinement that came from the Charpentier Collection in Paris (1937), and may have been a preparatory work for another piece conserved in the Félix Valdés collection in Bilbao, which is also associated to the preparatory sketches conserved in the Louvre Museum and the Biblioteca Nacional of Madrid, and with the oil painting at the Hermitage museum, a canvas that incorporates additional elements to those found in the piece we are discussing (cherubs in a “rompimiento de Gloria”or burst of glory, and architectural structures to the right). All of these works are directly related to a print by Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610), which provided the model for the composition, reversed in the latter.

St Joseph, with the blooming branch, gazes at the Child and holds his hand affectionately in the middle of a clearing. The piece stands out for its luminosity and refined composition, as well as the beauty of the buildings that can be seen in the background, expressed with broad quasi-abstract brushstrokes.

St Joseph is depicted with a beard (a symbol of wisdom and maturity), wearing a purplish tunic and a yellowish mantle. Starting in the 17th century, the red and green hues of his garments changed to ochre and mauve-purple; where ochre symbolises the humility and poverty he lived in, and purple refers to his constant sacrifice and austerity. The blooming branch he carries alludes to his triumph over the other courters of the Virgin Mary, and its transformation into a lily branch is a symbol of her virtue at the time of their marriage.