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The Dream of St Joseph

Artist: Georges De La Tour
Created: 1640
Dimensions (cm): 81.0 x 93.0
Format: Oil on canvas
Location: Musee des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, France

Georges De La Tour painted ‘The Dream of St Joseph’ around the year 1640. Until 1913, it was believed to be the work of Rembrandt, even though De La Tour‘s signature was in the top right-hand corner of the painting. Apparently, due to the beauty and magnificence of the painting; many sought a famous name to place on it. It displays a young child in biblical clothing standing before an old man who is still holding on to his book after falling asleep. The artist’s dramatic use of lighting gives the room a supernatural atmosphere and creates a feeling of serenity.

Interpretations of the Painting

The most common interpretation of ‘The Dream of St Joseph’ suggests that the elderly man in the painting is Joseph, and that he is dreaming of a visit from an angel who is announcing to him the upcoming arrival of his blessed son.

Another theory is that the young child is Samuel, who has been summoned by Eli, his priest. When Samuel arrives to find Eli sleeping, he realizes that the voice he heard was in fact the voice of God calling to him. The child’s hand gestures and the intricately detailed curve of his fingers add powerful meaning to the scene. The arm covering the flame of the candle causes an illumination of the face that results in a dream-like aura found in very few masterpieces of the era.

Analysis and Reviews

“Georges de la Tour's works can be distinguished most especially through the unique use of lighting in his nocturnal scenes. The paintings are lit with a candle, a nightlight, or a torch, which are sometimes visible or are, at other times, hidden behind a subject's hand or object. As for his less numerous and less popular daylight scenes, the figures are rendered with an acute eye to detail and a simplicity within the scene that is not found in the works of any other artist at the time.” (Misty Amanda Vandergriff – Sweet Briar College study page)

‘The Dream of St Joseph’ is currently located at the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Nantes, France.


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