Guido Reni, St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, c1620
49.6 x 39.8 in.
Guido Reni (1575-1642) was an Italian painter and one of the great artists of the Baroque period. Born in Bologna, his family was mostly made up of musicians, but they nurtured his visual skills and at age nine he was apprenticed to the Flemish painter Denis Calvaert who was working in Bologna. Although Reni's style mostly adheres to the Italianate style, there is still some visible Flemish influence from his first master. Eventually Reni moved to Rome, where he was one of the leaders of a strong Bolognese art contingent there. Like most artists of the time, he drew on biblical and Classical subjects and painted works that adhere strongly to his academic training. Many of his pieces are rather sculptural and resemble Mannerism, but he also painted more intense works of high drama and emotion. He also successfully reconciled these aspects of his style to produce fascinating paintings that explore the deeper emotionality of these canonical stories. St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus is one such painting, which, in my opinion, is perhaps is most beautiful work. Reni produced two other renditions of St. Joseph, both quite beautiful, but neither quite approaches the heights of this piece. Before this period, Joseph had often been depicted as a peripheral figure in the story of Jesus and Mary. He was usually passive, or even asleep at the edge of the scene. Baroque painters completely upended that tradition. Reni paints Joseph as a fully engaged parent, who holds Jesus tenderly and looks at him with deep love. Reni's skill is on display in every aspect of this painting, from the beautiful but simple surroundings to the fine drapery of Joseph's garment. With each hair on both figures and every line on Joseph's face so carefully rendered, this painting feels quite real. Reni shows us this tender moment so effectively as Joseph takes on his role of guidance and protection for this beautiful child.