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The Life of Jesus Christ, and the Art He Inspired: The Dream of St. Joseph

Updated on January 10, 2016

Who was St. Joseph?

Chapter Two: Joseph's Dilemma

Welcome to my second installment in the Illustrated Life of Jesus Project. In the previous installment, The Annunciation, we looked at artwork relating to Mary as the angel appeared to her and told her that she was going to be the mother of God. Now we turn our attention to Joseph, the ordinary carpenter with an extraordinary dilemma. His fiance' is pregnant, and he's not the father! The wedding's got to be called off, right? Or maybe not. Perhaps grace has a part to play, and all he needs is permission to be compassionate and merciful.

The Dream of St. Joseph by Anton Raphael Mengs


Matthew 1:18 - 25

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this way: When His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

19 And Joseph her husband, being a just man and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.

20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

21 And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.”

22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

23 “Behold, a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel” (which being interpreted is, “God with us”).

24 Then Joseph, being raised from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife,

25 and knew her not until she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.

The Dream of St. Joseph by Gerard Seghers


Le Songe de St. Joseph by José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro


Meditation: Joseph at the Crossroads

Poor Joseph. Sometimes, amidst all the enthusiasm poured upon the Madonna and Child, he gets lost in the shuffle. We don't know very much about him, other than his profession. He is of the line of David, so he must go to Bethlehem to be taxed. He's really thrown into despair by the idea that his betrothed has been unfaithful to him, but he must also have been a man of unusual compassion, because there's no anger in his stance. I don't get the idea, upon reading this passage, that Joseph really wanted to call off the engagement. Mengs and Seghers both show us a man who, lost in his sorrows, has nodded off where he sits, fully clothed. Perhaps he was still contemplating his situation when he fell asleep, trying to find a delicate solution to this most painful problem. How must the angel's encouragement have given him relief! I am especially fond of the paintings by Seghers and Rizi, which show the figure of Mary in the background. They leave me with the impression of a man in love who wishes to remain in love, who has Mary close to his heart. How relieved he must have been to find that the disgrace he feared could disappear in the assurance of grace and hope!

A happy ending!

And so they were married.

The Marriage of Joseph and Mary

Basilica of Kleinmariazell ( Lower Austria ). Frescos at the ceiling ( 1765 ) by Johann Baptist Wenzel Bergl: Marriage of Virgin Mary - detail.
Basilica of Kleinmariazell ( Lower Austria ). Frescos at the ceiling ( 1765 ) by Johann Baptist Wenzel Bergl: Marriage of Virgin Mary - detail. | Source

The Dream of St. Joseph by Francisco Rizi



Dear Lord, this day grant me the wisdom to be merciful when I am at odds with somebody I love. Help me to have the patience to gather all the facts before I proclaim judgement, and let me always be willing to see both sides of the issue. Make me as eager to find a loving solution as Joseph was, and may I always be guided by your Spirit as Joseph was by the dream sent to him from an angel.

Artist, date
Where it is located
The Dream of St. Joseph
Anton Raphael Mengs, 1773
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
The Dream of St. Joseph
Gerard Segers, 1700s
Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent
The Dream of St. Joseph
Francisco Rizi, 1665
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Le Songe de Saint Joseph
José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro, 1700s
Cathédrale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Castor de Nîmes


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