Tag: Louvre

Saint Joseph, the Carpenter from Nazareth

Saint Joseph, the Carpenter from Nazareth

Today March 19th is the day dedicated to Saint Joseph. Who is he? Joseph is one of the three members of the Holy Family, together with the Virgin Mary and her child Jesus. He is a carpenter from Nazareth and a widower, who married the Virgin Marry at that time already pregnant with Jesus. The virgin birth of Jesus is the Christian doctrine that Jesus was conceived and born by his mother Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit and without sexual intercourse. Joseph is therefore Jesus’s foster-father. In most paintings with the Holy Family, Joseph has a minor role and just in the background. Only from the 15th century artists gave more attention to Joseph and made him visible as head of the Holy Family. When the bible speaks about Jesus’s brothers and sisters, those are children of Joseph from a previous marriage. Saint Joseph is the patron saint of family life, fathers, unborn children and carpenters and in Western Christianity his celebration day is March 19th. And in Italy, this special day of Saint Joseph (San Giuseppe in Italian) is also Father’s Day. Joseph might be a lesser celebrity in the biblical world, but as “father” he is a figure that means so much in everyone’s life. Even when he is a foster-father.

Robert Campin (1378 – 1444), “Saint Joseph” (right-hand panel of the “Annunciation Triptych – Merode Altarpiece”) (c. 1430), 65x27cm, Oil on Panel, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

This is the right-hand panel of a triptych. The old man Joseph, who is engaged to the Virgin Mary, works in his carpenter shop. The mousetraps he made, on the bench and in the shopwindow opening onto the street, are symbols of the crucifixion of Jesus which will only happen 33 years later. Jesus on the cross is considered the devil’s mousetrap.

Robert Campin (1378 – 1444), “Annunciation Triptych – Merode Altarpiece” (c. 1430), 65x118cm, Oil on Panel, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Looking at the triptych as a whole, the middle panel shows the moment when the Virgen Mary gets the message from the angel Gabriel that she will be pregnant with Jesus. It’s even the moment of the divine impregnation itself. On the right panel Joseph in his workshop, busy making the mousetraps and no idea what is happening to Mary at this very moment. On the left the donors of this triptych.

French 15th century, “The Expectant Madonna with Saint Joseph” (c.1435), 71x35cm, Tempura on Panel, National Gallery of Art (Samuel H. Kress Collection), Washington DC.

When Joseph was engaged to Mary he found out she became pregnant, and certainly not by him! Joseph was very much doubting if he should indeed marry her. As he considered splitting up, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” As is written in the bible, see Matthew 1: 18-20. On the picture above you can see Mary, pregnant with Jesus, and Joseph as an old man doubting about what happened. This is not a very common image to see in paintings and it’s obviously a mysterious element in the whole story and even a bit embarrassing for Joseph. The message from the angel to Joseph is then solving this element to everyone’s satisfaction, including Joseph’s. From the 15th century the Holy Family (Maria, Jesus and Joseph) as a subject became way more popular and that helped to raise Joseph in public esteem. Joseph is from then on represented more sympathetically and more prominently.

George de la Tour (1593 – 1652), “Saint Joseph the Carpenter” (1642), 137x102cm, Oil on Canvas, Louvre, Paris.

This painting by George de la Tour (1642, from the Louvre) cannot be missed in any story about Joseph. As patron saint of carpenters, Joseph is working on a beam, helped by his foster son Jesus. The arrangement of pieces of wood on the floor evokes a cross and prefigures the crucifixion of Jesus. The young Jesus with the candlelight shining on his face makes already a reference to becoming the “Light of the World”. George de la Tour shows that even Jesus lived a simple and innocent earthly life, but he included divinity’s presence by way of the light of the candle.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617 – 1682), “The Holy Family” (1650), 144x188cm, Oil on Canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Here we see the Holy family with a playing Jesus and two caring parents in a domestic scene. It shows home life but also work, symbolized by Saint Joseph’s carpenter tools on the right. The almost leading role of Joseph, the foster father, corresponds to the increased worship of Joseph as a father figure within the Holy Family. Over the centuries the image of Joseph developed from a grumpy old man to a caring – and younger – father.

Sir John Everett Millais (1829 – 1896), “Christ in the House of His Parents – The Carpenter’s Shop” (1850), 86x140cm, Oil on Canvas, Tate Gallery, London.

This is a painting from the Pre-Raphaelite painter Millais, showing a scene from the boyhood of Jesus and placed in Joseph’s carpenter workshop. It’s full of symbolic messages. Jesus, as a boy, has wounded himself at a nail and is being comforted by his parents Mary and Joseph. Blood is dripping from his hand on his foot. Both spots of blood are foreshadowing the crucifixion. On the right we see the young Saint John the Baptist with a bowl of water, as reference to the baptizing of Jesus Christ. At the back on the wall is a carpenter’s triangle, referring to the Holy Trinity of God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus son of God. And the dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, is sitting on the ladder.

The pre-Raphaelites wanted to strip-away all traditions of painting since Raphael. Millais removed all beauty and placed the scene in an ordinary carpenter workshop, with common people as the Holy Family. The picture prompted many negative reviews. The Times described it as ‘revolting’ and objected to the way in which the artist had dared to depict the Holy Family as ordinary, lowly people in a humble carpenter’s shop. Charles Dickens was one of the most vehement critics, describing the young Christ as ‘a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-headed boy, in a bed gown’. The painting can be seen in the Tate Gallery, London, where it’s now considered one of their masterpieces.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617 – 1682), “The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities – The Pedroso Murillo” (c. 1680), 293x207cm, Oil on Canvas, National Gallery, London.

This painting illustrates the belief that Jesus was both human and divine, by placing him in the middle of the two “Trinities”. The vertical line is the Holy Trinity, with God the Father, the Holy Ghost (the dove), and Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus looks up towards heaven, but affectionately holds hands with his human parents, Mary and Joseph. The three together, as the horizontal line, make up the Earthly Trinity. Mary’s loving gaze and gracefully upturned palm are directed towards her young son. Joseph looks out of the picture towards us, inviting us to adore Jesus. Murillo transforms a complex theological principle into a very human and accessible image. With Jospeh as the connecting figure between us humans and the divine world of God.

Adriaen Coorte (active 1683 – 1707)

It’s summer; fruits and vegetables galore! And that’s what Adriaen Coorte painted. Mini still lifes, the size of a postcard, often painted just on paper. Around 60 of these fragile works of beauty still exist and were mostly collected by the 17th Century elite in the province of Zeeland in the south-western part of The Netherlands. Fortunately Adriaen Coorte signed and dated his paintings, because that artistic legacy is all we know about the artist himself. Mystery surrounds his personal life.

Adriaen Coorte (active 1683 – 1707), “Still Life with Gooseberries” (1701), 30x23cm, Oil on Paper, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio.

There are some records of a family of rope and cord makers in IJzendijke, a small city in Zeeland. Their family name “Coorte” means “cord”, and amongst the family members is  a certain “Adriaen Coorte”. Could this be our painter? This Adriaen had 3 brothers and we know more about them. They were sailor and soldier on ships for the Dutch East and West India Companies. Maybe Adriaen stayed at home and painted his delicate paintings as an amateur painter? He certainly lived far away from the influence of centers of art like Amsterdam and he invented his own personal and unique style.

The fruits and vegetables Coorte painted are seasonal and a bit special. Peaches, apricots, asparagus, wild strawberries: these are delights that could be found in the gardens of the Zeeland merchant elite. They collected exotic plants that arrived in Zeeland with the trading ships coming back from the Far East and West.

Adriaen Coorte (active 1683 – 1707), Still Life with Asparagus and Red Currants” (1696), 34x25cm, Oil on Canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

But what to paint in winter? How about exotic shells! And that’s another specialty of Adriaen Coorte. Maybe he got these on loan from a local wealthy trader who collected precious goods from around the world, or he got these as gifts from his brothers who took these from far-away exotic places? Adriaen remains a person of mystery. We only know him through his wonderful paintings. Adriaen Coorte is not anonymous, but now almost a “Banksy” of his own time.

The Four Evangelists

The Four Evangelists are the ones who wrote the four gospels in the New Testament, which is the second volume of the Bible. These gospels describe the life of Christ and are therefore in essence four times the same story but written by four different authors. The word “evangelist” comes from the Greek word εὐ-αγγέλιον (eu-angelion), which means “the good message”; εὔ = good, αγγέλιον = message. The word “angel” has the same origin and actually means “messenger”. The authors of these 4 gospel-books are the Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Jacob Jordaens (1593 – 1678), “The Four Evangelists” (1625), 133x118cm, Oil on Canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

The Four Evangelists are mostly depicted separately, but here is a 1625 painting by Jacob Jordaens in which they form a group. It’s clearly a group of four wise men, writing books. And therefore these can immediately be identified as the Four Evangelists. Identifying the individual evangelists is the next step. Each of them has his own symbol, and that’ the easy way to recognize them. That can be seen on the painting (c. 1614) by the Utrecht painter Abraham Bloemaert. Luke’s symbol is the ox, Mark has a lion, John his eagle, and for Matthew it’s an angel. It’s still the group of the Four Evangelists, together in one painting. But in most cases they are depicted in individual pictures, and as there are four of them, it’s excellent for series of four paintings, prints and even sculptures. Look for the ox, lion, eagle or angel and you know who is who.

Abraham Bloemaert (1566 – 1651), “The Four Evangelists” (c. 1614), 179x227cm, Oil on Canvas, Princeton University Art Museum.

Here are two Dutch Old Master prints from a series of the Four Evangelists. It’s Saint Matthew with the angel, and Saint John with the eagle. And both of them are receiving holy and spiritual inspiration for writing their gospel: the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to John. Prints from 1606 by Crispijn van de Passe after paintings by Gortzius Geldorp, 42x30cm, Engraving on Paper, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Leonardo da Vinci exhibition

Louvre, Paris
24 October 2019 – 24 February 2020

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Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519), “La Belle Ferronnière” (c. 1493), 62x44cm, Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The year 2019 marks the 500-year anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, of particular importance for the Louvre. The museum is seizing the opportunity in this year of commemorations to gather as many of the artist’s paintings as possible around the five core works in its collections: The Virgin of the Rocks, La Belle Ferronnière, the Mona Lisa (which will remain in the gallery where it is normally displayed), the Saint John the Baptist, and the Saint Anne. The objective is to place them alongside a wide array of drawings as well as a small but significant series of paintings and sculptures from the master’s circle.

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Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519), “Saint John the Baptist” (c.1515), 69x57cm, Louvre, Paris

This unprecedented retrospective of da Vinci’s painting career will illustrate how he placed utmost importance on painting, and how his  investigation of the world, which he referred to as “the science of painting,” was the instrument of his art, seeking nothing less than to bring life to his paintings. The exhibition will paint the portrait of a man and an artist of extraordinary freedom. (From the museum’s website)

Time slots to be booked in advance. The reservation service will be open as of June 18, 2019 at www.ticketlouvre.fr