Joseph with the Christ Child
Item No. 9518
19th Century, Christian, India
Wood with Polychrome
29.5" x 8" x 6.5"
( 74.93 x 20.32 x 16.51 cm)
(H x W x D)
This image of Joseph with the Baby Jesus was originally placed in a niche in a Catholic Church in Kerala in South India. The artist, most likely a native Indian artist, has chosen a model that emphasizes the formal aspects of the figures in an effort to convey a significant and substantial spiritual presence.
Joseph stands erect with an elongated body, right foot to the side and his right knee slightly forward in a European contrapposto that produces a body position in an S-curve with a gently curving lower body echoed by the upper body curving in the opposite direction and given counterpoint by the fall of the outer drapery. Joseph's tunic is tied high above the waist horizontally across the lower chest at the exact height where his bent right arm and hand appears and which would have originally held a flowering stalk, now lost.
The heads of Joseph and the baby Jesus are held erect and look forward showing the influence of a European, probably Portuguese, source, visual material that the Indian sculptor was probably either copying or using for inspiration. Joseph stands on a rectangular wood base which adds to the height of the piece, elongates the body even further and adds stature to the figure. His face is angular, with prominent cheekbones and nose and deeply set eyes, elements which create an ethereal and spiritual presence of great character. The facial elements are reinforced by the high hairline which recedes at the temples, the overall effect of which is relieved by the hair being combed forward onto the high forehead and over the ears. The beard and moustache also aid in relieving the angularity of the face. The blue eyes are another reference to European influences.
Joseph's tunic is painted blue, an unusual color, since Joseph's traditional robes would be purple to indicate that he is part of the royalty of the Holy Family. The folds in his tunic fall in parallel vertical lines. The baby Jesus sits godlike and almost weightless on Joseph's left arm. Joseph's arm is covered by the flowing robe which he wears over his blue tunic and which falls over his body to his bare feet. The baby Jesus leans back slightly on Joseph for support and comfort.
The model the artist used for this sculpture emphasized this image as a religious and spiritual icon of the Catholic Church rather than less formal portrayals that depict the humanity of the figures. Joseph does not look at or have any interaction with Jesus. Nevertheless, both figures appear to possess an inner spiritual life which is reinforced by the two staring out directly at the viewer. They embrace the viewer and draw them into their sphere and aura of compassion and spirituality. Jesus gazes directly at the viewer with a serene and glowing expression, his lips slightly parted in a gentle and sweet smile. He also crosses his hands over his heart, a symbolic reference to the later crucifixion and the sacred heart.