Saint Joseph the Carpenter was painted between 1635 and 1638, the picture by La Tour shows the Christ Child assisting Joseph in his carpentry work. The theme, like that of the Virgin Mary learning to read, subject of a later work by La Tour, was connected with the emphasis placed by the Counter Reformation on the education of children. The Jesuits were particularly committed to this activity, and Father Pierre Fourier had founded the Congregation de Notre-Dame in Lorraine for the education of girls: the popularity of such compositions should be seen in relation to these pedagogical models. The representation of Joseph as a man of the people was a choice made by other "tenebrist" painters of the time, and in particular Gerrit van Honthorst. The cult of Joseph had been encouraged in the 17th century, and in 1621 Pope Gregory XV had decided to make his feast day, March 19, an official religious holiday. From a stylistic viewpoint the composition is based, in a manner typical of La Tour, on the presence of a single source of artificial light, here the candle held by Jesus. Note the subtle way in which the light shines through the fingers of the Child, a ploy used by the painter in other art works as well. The play of light and shade on Joseph's wrinkled face, with its absorbed expression, and even the human type chosen as a model appear very Caravaggesque, especially when compared with the more summary rendering of Christ's face, the features almost canceled out by the bright light.
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