THE CHRISTMAS CANVAS: ‘The Dream of Joseph’ by Georges de la Tour

 It was indeed a tough day for Joseph. Post his labour at the carpenters table, he had discovered with deep sorrow that Mary his betrothed was pregnant. As the tongues in the town wagged furiously with the news, Joseph was deeply embarrassed as only he knew that he was not the father.

He was well aware of the gruesome punishment and the disgrace that would await Mary if she was prosecuted for adultery. His delicate feelings decided otherwise. Despite his painful discovery and his ignorance of the divine incarnation plan, he resolved not to defame his affianced but rather to divorce her privately without a messy public trial.

As the sun goes down the horizon, a night of obscurity, anguish and introspection invades Joseph. Post the bustle of the day; he desired the inner silence of the night. As thoughts stormed his mind, he lay down at rest in his favourite armchair seeking some refuge in the sacred scriptures.

Georges de la Tour, through today’s painting, takes this impeding scene to the next level. Gone is the Italian architecture and the Dutch landscape. The nature of the canvas takes us far from the outwardly or the human point of view, dwelling rather deep on the intimate, more inner nature of man. The room is devoid of cluttering details. It exemplifies the essentials i.e. two protagonists and the play of divine light.

No utterance rather deep silence permeates the room. The silence lulls Joseph into a sagely slumber. The flame of the consuming candle soon finds company in divine radiance. In comes an immaculate little mediator from God. Face aglow, eyes focused, the left hand of the angel moves in parallel with Joseph’s consciousness transcending his being into divine space.

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