New World, Spanish Colonial, Mexico, ca. 19th century CE. A simple, elegant, hand-carved wooden figure of Saint Joseph. He is portrayed with a sensitive face that looks downward, his facial features and hair naturalistically carved and painted. He has glass eyes that imbue the statue with a more lifelike appearance, and he wears an opulent ankle-length robe covered in gold leaf, crimson pigment, and stunning floral and tendril-form motifs. On his feet are simple sandals of a dark-brown color, and atop his head is a perforation meant to hold a repousse silver halo. Saint Joseph was a compassionate man, the stepfather of Jesus Christ and husband of Mary, a carpenter and devout member of his community. Size: 26.625" H (67.6 cm); 12.5" H (31.8 cm) on included custom stand.
The cult of Joseph originated during the time of Luther when the Catholic Church was seeking out new heroes to meet the needs of the Counter Reformation. Prior to this time, Joseph was somewhat ignored. The Carmelite Order, under the direction of Saint Theresa, rejuvenated the image of Saint Joseph. Instead of being portrayed as an elderly man who watched over Mary, he grew to be depicted as a virile man in the prime of his life, full of youth and strength, yet portrayed as a gentle man of tenderness as we see in this example.
Santos played a key role in bringing the Catholic Church to the New World with the Spanish colonists. These religious figures were hand-carved and often furnished with crowns, jewels, and other accessories, usually funded by religious devotees, and were used as icons to explain the major figures - Mary, Christ, and the saints - to new, indigenous converts. Likewise, they served as a connection to the Old World for Spanish colonists far from home. They became a folk-art tradition in the Spanish New World, from modern day Guatemala to as far north as New Mexico and Colorado. Many of them were lovingly cared for over the years, with repairs and paint added as they aged, and played an active part for a long time in the religious life of their communities.
Provenance: private California, USA collection
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Losses to both arms, part of one foot, and portion of base. Surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age, losses and fading to pigmentation, fading to some areas of floral and tendril-form motifs, and extensive but inactive termite damage. Light earthen deposits throughout.