Sunday, April 4, 2021

Links for the Easter Season

Anthony van Dyck, The Resurrection
Flemish, c. 1631-1632
Hartford (CT), Wadsworth Athenaeum

The days of Lent and the days of sadness that are the Triduum in this second  year of the COVID-19 pandemic are past and Easter 2021 has arrived!




I wish you a happy and profoundly inspiring Easter Season.

Who could have imagined two years ago that Christian worship on Easter would be restricted for two whole cycles!  While the picture is certainly better than it was one year ago, when most churches in the world were completely closed, there are still obstacles to the kind of celebration we were used to participating in.  

In many locations churches are either closed or are open under limited circumstances.  Also, many people still feel unsafe being indoors and, therefore, reluctant to attend the liturgies that commemorate the events of the Easter Season.  For these reasons I recommend to you the links below.  They lead to some of the commentary that I have written over the  years regarding the iconography of the Easter Season, which extends from this happy day till Pentecost and Trinity Sunday.

With museums in many countries closed once again as well, please feel free to explore virtually the art created to imagine the Resurrection and the days immediately following, all the way through to the feast of the Holy Trinity.  I hope that considering these events and the pictures that artists have created to illustrate them over the centuries will help you to feel more connected to the long tradition of Christian art offered to the glory of God and to the living Church of our own time.

The Resurrection, the Appearances, the Incredulity of Thomas, Emmaus

Date Published

The Women at the Tomb

April 27, 2011

Noli Me Tangere

April 29, 2011

Jesus, the Gardener
April 18, 2017

The Incredulity of St. Thomas (Doubting Thomas)
May 1, 2011

Emmaus -- The Journey

May 7, 2011

Emmaus -- The Recognition

May 7, 2011

Climbing from the Tomb

May 13, 2011

Hovering over the Tomb

May 13, 2011

Bursting from the Tomb

May 14, 2011

An Awkward
Resurrection Image

April 23, 2014
Good Shepherd Sunday
May 15, 2011

The Lake of Galilee -- The Disciples Go Fishing

May 17, 2011

Commission to Peter -- The Good Shepherd Transfers Responsibility

May 21, 2011

The Commission to the Apostles

May 27, 2011

Christ Appears to His Mother

Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother

June 1, 2011

May 11, 2017

The Ascension

Striding into the Sky
June 3, 2011

Lifted in a Mondorla or on a Cloud

May 5, 2017

The Disappearing Feet

May 5, 2017

The Direct Approach

May 5, 2017


Veni, Sanctae Spiritus

Tongues of Fire

May 27, 2012

May 15, 2016

At This Sound, They Gathered In a Crowd

The Holy Trinity

Worthy Is The Lamb

Father, Son, Spirit

Iconography of the 
Holy Trinity – 
Imagining The Unimaginable

God So Loved the World That 
He Gave His Only Son

The Holy Trinity -- The Throne of Grace


May 17, 2016

April 10, 2016

May 18, 2008

June 2, 2012

June 13, 2019

June 7, 2020

© M. Duffy, 2020

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The Day of Gloom and the Coming of the Light

Paolo Veronese, Dead Christ Supported By Angels
Italian, 1587-1589
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
This essay, originally  written several years ago, was amended last year to use the reduced circumstances occasioned by the lockdowns in many countries as part of the meditation on the meaning of Easter. 

Although the circumstances are somewhat better this year, in that churches will be functioning again in many places, it will still be far from "normal".  They will, perhaps, not be as full as usual and the liturgies will lack many of the usual elements, such as processions.  However, the Paschal Candle will be lit and the Exultet will be sung.  Catechumens will be baptized and baptized converts will be received into the church.  The readings will still tell us about creation and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.  The Eucharist will still be consecrated and received.  The Alleluias will still be sung.  Nevertheless,  since every person in the world has not been vaccinated yet and the virus continues to infect millions while millions more will stay home to avoid it, the essay seems worth repeating.  But, please remember that it was written in April 2020, not currently.

On a typical Holy Saturday the church is quiet, the tabernacle empty, the altar stripped.  People come for services such as Tenebrae, made up of readings, songs and symbolic acts such as the snuffing out of candles or for Confession to ask God for forgiveness.

 Basically, the prevailing mood is quiet, a little gloomy even, but with a hint of excitement nonetheless.

This year of 2020 things are very different.  The churches are very quiet, indeed for they are empty.  There will be no public celebrations of Tenebrae, no Confessions, unless they are drive through or by appointment in carefully distanced surroundings.  There will be an Easter Vigil, however, even if there is no one in the church building except the minimum necessary.  The major portion of the Christian world is in isolation, staying at home in an attempt to reduce the raging pandemic of COVID-19, a virus no one knew existed until four months ago.

But the congregations will be there, virtually, attending the services of the churches that have found a way to live stream the Holy Week liturgies.  In this we are so much more privileged than our ancestors who endured previous plagues and epidemics.  In these last days I have been present virtually at liturgies in several countries and in different states:  Rome, Paris, Turin, New York and California.  In spite of the pandemic, which has caused me to hunker down in my apartment due to my several prior "comorbidities" I feel highly blessed to be able to live in a time when this is possible.

So, today while we remember the hours between the evening of Good Friday, when the body of Jesus was laid hurriedly in the tomb with little ceremony, and the morning of Easter Sunday, when the women who came to complete the proper burial customs found an empty tomb, we find ourselves enduring a kind of burial as well.

But, underneath it all is still the sense of expectation.  And, late in the afternoon, we will turn to the screens of our television or computer or tablet to celebrate the Easter Vigil, the Great Vigil, in which the darkness of the tomb is turned to the light of resurrection.

As the massive newly carved and lit Paschal Candle is carried down the aisle of the darkened church we will be confronted with a symbolic image that has come down to us from remote centuries, for the light represents the Risen Christ.  This year we cannot light our small candles with the rest of the congregation, though perhaps we may light one at home.  But we should try to hold in memory what happens year after year as the individual candles are lit from the great one.  The church gradually fills with light.  What was obscure and gloomy just moments ago can be seen clearly.  It is a magnificent symbol of the Resurrection, of the share we each have in it and of the effect that spreading that light can have on the world.  This year the light may come only from the screen, but it is none the less a manifestation of the Light of Christ.  And if all the tuned-in screens in the world could shine together, we might have a very different world.

Deacon Singing the Exultet 
From  an Exultet Roll
Italian (Montecassino), ca. 1072
In this scene he gestures toward the Paschal Candle, which is being incensed

For more information on the images that relate to both the day of waiting and of the Paschal Candle, please click on the following:

The Harrowing of Hell here

The Dead Christ in the Tomb here

Easter Vigil and the Paschal Candle here

©  M. Duffy, 2015, updated 2020 and 2021

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Links for Good Friday

Fra Angelico and assistants, Mocking of Christ
Italian, 1440-1443
Florence, Convent of San Marco

Recently I presented a series of links to pictures, mostly by Giotto, of the events of Holy Week.  Today I am presenting a larger series of links to many more works of art, arranged around themes suggested by meditations and such devotions as the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross.  

I have updated many of these listings this year.  Sometimes this has been the addition of new material.  In other cases it has been the replacement of pictures with newly available photos in higher definition than was available when the essays were originally written.

There is a great deal of material here that you can use to explore the themes presented.  This may be particularly helpful for Holy Week 2021, when many Christians continue to be unable to take part physically in any of the familiar Holy Week liturgies and services and even those of us who have been fully vaccinated continue to be cautious.  May you have a fruitful experience while using them.

2012 Series:  Meditations on the Passion
Meditation on the Passion
April 1, 2012
Meditation on the Passion – The Mocking of Christ by Fra Angelico
April 4, 2012
Meditation on the Passion – The Ecce Homo
April 5, 2012
Meditation on the Passion – The Man of Sorrows
April 6, 2012
Meditation on the Passion – In the Tomb

 2018 Additions:
Meditation on the Passion -- The Instruments of the Passion  
Meditation on the Passion -- The Man of Sorrows with Instruments of the Passion

April 7, 2012

March 28, 2018

March 29, 2018

2019 with 2020 update

O Sacred Head Surrounded                                 April 19, 2019  

© M. Duffy, 2017, update 2020

Friday, March 26, 2021

Links for Holy Week

Giotto, Jesus Washes the Feet of Peter
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel (detail)

I won't be blogging during the next few weeks, which include Holy Week (March 28 - 31) and the Paschal Triduum (April 1, 2, 3).  Instead I am providing links to the numerous essays I have written in recent years about the art associated with these days. Please use the links below to access them.

Also watch the Featured Posts section on the right for direct links to associated articles.  You may particularly wish to click on the links to the images associated with the Stations of the Cross and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, both popular devotional prayers recalling the events of Holy Week.

2011 Series:  Holy Week with Giotto (with some additional essays from later years)

Date Published
Palm Sunday
Holy Week with Giotto, Palm Sunday
April 17, 2011

Entering Jerusalem, the Hinge to the Passion
April 9, 2017

Monday and
Holy Week with Giotto – Jesus and Judas
April 19, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Judas’ Betrayal I
April 20, 2011

Spy Wednesday -- Thirty Pieces of Silver
April 1, 2015

Holy Week with Giotto – Holy Thursday, Washing Feet
April 21, 2011

Holy Thursday
April 5, 2012

Holy Week with Giotto – Judas’ Betrayal II, the Kiss
April 20, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Overnight, Christ Before Caiaphas
April 21, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Early Morning, Mocking of Christ
April 21, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Mid-Morning, Via Crucis
April 22, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Early Afternoon, the Crucifixion
April 22, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Late Afternoon, the Lamentation
April 22, 2011

Holy Saturday
April 23, 2011

O, Key of David! Come, break down the walls of death!
December 20, 2011

Exult! – The Easter Proclamation
March 30, 2013

The Day of Gloom and the Coming of the Light

© M. Duffy, 2020

April 4, 2015

Thursday, March 18, 2021

St. Joseph, Spouse As Mousetrap

Guido Reni, St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus
Italian, 1620s
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
The image of St. Joseph has had a curious history, reflecting the attitude to Joseph as it has developed through time. Today we tend to think of him as the supportive companion of the Virgin Mary or as the strong, silent protector of the Infant Jesus or as the craftsman going quietly about his work. But all of these images are only a few centuries old, if that.

For most of the history of Christian art St. Joseph was either ignored or treated as a very minor background figure. Early depictions of the birth of Jesus don’t include him at all! And, since his appearances in the New Testament end with the episode of the Finding of Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve, that (as a background figure at the Nativity) was pretty much the limit of inclusion for Joseph.

In early medieval images in both the East and the West Joseph, when he appears at all, is segregated from Mary and the Christ Child, even in Nativity images. Further, he is invariably shown not as a sturdy man in his prime, but as an old, indeed sometimes a very old. man.

Guido da Siena, Nativity
Italian, ca. 1270
Paris, Musée du Louvre

In this thirteenth-century Italian Nativity scene, Joseph (shown seating at the extreme left at the bottom) has about the same level of importance as the midwives who bathe the Baby Jesus or the kneeling shepherd and his dog.

Duccio, Nativity
Italian, 1308-1311
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art
In this picture, by Duccio, Joseph has increased in size, a sure indicator that he is becoming a more important figure.  So, he is now marginally more important than the midwives and the shepherds with their sheep and dog because he is bigger in size.

Both of these aspects of Joseph’s iconography, his advanced age and his detachment, spring from the concern to protect both the divinity of Christ and the perpetual virginity of Mary. It was thought that a younger, more involved figure might raise questions about his role.1

By the later middle ages this was beginning to change. While still shown as an old man, Joseph began to take a more active role in the scenes of Jesus’ life. He is brought into the same space as Mary and Jesus.  He begins to help at the birth, join Mary in adoration of the Child, welcome the Magi, take part in the Presentation in the Temple and to work.

Master of Flemalle, Nativity
Netherlandish, 1420
Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Fra Filippo Lippi, Adoration of the Shepherds
Italian, c. 1455
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi

Jacques Daret, Adoration of the Magi
French, 1433-1435
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Jacques Daret, Presentation of Jesus
French, 1433-1435
Paris, Musée du Petit Palais

Other scenes, taken from apocryphal stories of the life of Mary, began to appear, among them the story of his choice as Mary’s husband and the marriage ceremony itself.  According to the stories, Mary had many eligible suitors.  In order to ensure that the choice would fall to a truly good man, the Temple elders required all the suitors to bring a dry rod to the Temple.  The rods were placed on the altar overnight.  In the morning, only one had blossomed, the rod belonging to Joseph.

Giotto, Mary's Suitors Bring Their Rods to the Temple
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena/Scrovegni Chapel

Giotto, The Suitors Praying Over Their Rods
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena/Scrovegni Chapel

Giotto, The Marriage of Mary and Joseph
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena/Scrovegni Chapel
In the scene of the wedding of Mary and Joseph he carries his lily topped rod as a symbol of his own purity and as the sign of divine appointment as foster father for Jesus.

Fra Angelico, Marriage of the Virgin
Italian, 1431-1432
Florence, Museo di San Marco

Raphael, Marriage of Virgin
Italian, 1504
Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera

Rosso, Marriage of Virgin
Italian, 1523
Florence, San Lorenzo

Alonso Cano, Marriage of the Virgin
Spanish, 1655-1657
Castres, Musée Goya

One of the most interesting images of Saint Joseph from the later middle ages/early Renaissance period appears on the right wing of the Annunciation triptych known as the Merode Altarpiece.

Workshop of Robert Campin (Master of Flemalle), Merode Altarpiece
Netherlandish, 1427-1432
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection

This triptych, now in the Cloisters branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was painted by the Flemish artist Robert Campin and his workshop during the second quarter of the fifteenth century. The central panel shows the Annunciation taking place in a typical 15th-century town parlor. The right wing shows Joseph in his workshop.  He is seated at a bench and table by the open window of his shop, surrounded by the implements of his trade. 

Robert Campin and Workshop, St. Joseph, the Mousetrap
Detail of the Merode Altarpiece,  Right Wing

Some completed projects appear on his workbench and on display in the window of the shop.  Most conspicuous among them are two mousetraps (one is on the table, the other on display in the open window). Scholars have identified the symbolic meaning of these mousetraps. They are “the devil’s mousetrap".2

Robert Campin and Workshop, St. Joseph with completed mousetrap surrounded by tools and wood shavings
Detail of the Merode Altarpiece,  Right Wing

Robert Campin and Workshop, St. Joseph with completed mousetrap on display
Detail of the Merode Altarpiece,  Right Wing

The idea of the mousetrap as a symbol for the Redemption is drawn from sermons of St. Augustine – the Incarnation is God’s mousetrap to catch the devil. The devil wasn’t expecting the Messiah to come in the form of a human baby, especially one born into such humble surroundings.  Further, St. Joseph himself is a third mousetrap. His presence as the apparent father of Jesus confused the devil further. The devil anticipated contending with a different kind of Messiah, not the child of a humble carpenter.  So, by inspiring the human death of Jesus the devil was himself destroyed.

This image, equating St. Joseph with the mousetrap, stands at a seminal point for the Josephite iconography. It is probably not a coincidence that this image appeared during the period in which devotion to St. Joseph began to develop. It was in 1479 that the feast of St. Joseph, celebrated on March 19, was added to the Roman calendar of commemorations.

During the later Renaissance and into the Baroque period Joseph became more and more evident and involved. His age began to change as well. Although some artists continued to depict him as an older man many began to depict him as young and vigorous. Even those who chose to make him older never again made him as old as did the earlier images.
Michelangelo, Holy Family (Doni Tondo)
Italian, ca. 1506
Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi

Caravaggio, Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Italian, 1596-1597
Rome, Galleria Doria-Pamphilji

Philippe de Champaigne, Presentation of Jesus
French, 1648
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts

Caesar van Everdingen, Holy Family
Dutch, c. 1660
Utrecht, Museum Catherijneconvent

Francesco Mancini, Holy Family
Italian, c.1730
Vatican City, Musei Vaticani, Pinacoteca

Artists also began to depict a closer relationship between Jesus and his foster father. They were more frequently seen in close connection to each other. Joseph now carries and cares for the infant Jesus and teaches the boy Jesus.

George de la Tour, The Boy Jesus and St. Joseph  in the Carpenter's Shop
French, 1642
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Sebastian Martinez, St. Joseph with the Christ Child
Spanish, c. 1650
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Juan Antonio Frias y Escalane, Saint Joseph and the Infant Christ
Spanish, c. 1660-1665
Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum

Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, St. Joseph with the Christ Child
Italian, c. 1740
Private Collection

Noel Halle, Holy Family
French, 1753
Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum

Finally, with Mary and Jesus, he forms a sort of terrestrial trinity represented by the familiar formula: Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Bartolome Murillo, The Two Trinities
Spanish, 1675-1682
London, National Gallery of Art

In more recent times Joseph has begun to stand on his own, as a saint in his own right. On December 8, 1870 Pope Pius IX, in the decree Quaemadmodem Deus (“As Almighty God”) declared him the patron of the universal Church. *

In 1899, in the encyclical Quamquam pluries (“Although many times”) Pope Leo XIII urged all Catholics to give Joseph special honor during the month of March and especially on the 19th of March, his feast day.* 

Further the phrase “Blessed be Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse" was added to the Divine Praises by Pope Benedict XV on February 23, 1921.  Benedict XV also encouraged devotion to Saint Joseph in the Motu Proprio, Bonum Sane (It was a good thing), of July 25, 1920. *

In 1955 Pope Pius XII instituted an additional feast day for Saint Joseph, under the title of St. Joseph the Worker. It is celebrated on May 1, although it is frequently displaced by the Easter weekday.

In 2012 Pope Benedict XVI, whose baptismal name is Joseph, proclaimed Joseph as patron of the New Evangelization during the special Year of Faith celebrated that year.*

Similarly, Pope Francis, in an Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde ("With the Heart of a Father"), dated December 8, 2020, has proclaimed the liturgical year 2021 to be a special year devoted to Saint Joseph during which Catholics will reflect on Joseph's life and qualities.  The Pope notes that it has been 150 years since Pius IX proclaimed Saint Joseph as patron of the universal Church. He adds further that 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, has reminded us of the importance of those seemingly hidden lives that keep the world going.  As he says "Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. "*

© M. Duffy, 2012, updated 2021.
1. A good summary of the history of images of St. Joseph is found at

2. Meyer Schapiro, "Muscipula Diaboli," The Symbolism of the Mérode Altarpiece, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Sep., 1945), pp. 182-187.

Also see: Margaret B. Freeman, “The Iconography of the Merode Altarpiece”, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol. 16, no. 4, December 1957, pp. 130-139.

*  The Papal documents referred to are available at the website of the Holy See (  The landing page is in Italian, but one can choose another language in the box at the upper right corner (for the entire site) and each document has translations available in multiple languages.  Scroll down on the landing page to the small portraits of the Popes and click on the Pope whose writings you are interested in.  That will lead you to the website devoted to the works of each Pope from Benedict XIV (1740-1758) to Francis.