The Holy Family with a Little Bird by Murillo show us a touching and intimate scene in a domestic setting: the Holy Family (c. 1645-50) viewed in the light of a new and simple piety, accessible to all. St. Joseph and the Child are the true protagonists of the scene, while the Virgin gazes tenderly at her Son. The cult of St. Joseph was relatively recent. Loved but not venerated during the Middle Ages, the saint was viewed in a new light following the publication of the book Summa de donis Sancti Joseph by the Dominican isidoro de Isolano in 1522. St. Teresa of Avila called him "the father of my soul" and dedicated her first convent to him. In 1621, moreover, Gregory XV had given devotion to the saint an official status by fixing March 19 as his feast day. But religious writers had not been able to agree on how he should be represented, elderly and balding or young and vigorous, a man capable of protecting the Virgin, "perfect in the spirit and handsome in the body." And this is how Murillo chooses to present him, youthful, strong and with a thick head of black hair. His greatness lay in his having lived with Jesus, whose perfections he had absorbed. The Child's gesture, reminiscent of Federico Barocci painting Madonna del Gatto,should be seen in relation to a text on St. Joseph written in 1597 by the Carmelite Graciano de la Madre de Dios, published in three languages and distributed in all the order's monasteries: "He took I ... the Child in his arms and carried him, singing songs, distracted him when he cried and rocked him to sleep kJ. Every time he went out he bought him birds and apples." It is likely that many of the works referring to these episodes were painted for nunneries.
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