Saint Joseph and the Christ Child

Cusco School Artist, Saint Joseph and the Christ Child, late 17th-18th century, oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn.

Paintings that focused on Joseph as a young caring father became very popular during the 16th and 17th centuries throughout the Spanish Empire when King Charles II declared him the patron saint of the Spanish monarchy. Cusco was once the capital of the Inca Empire and the Cuzco-School style developed as indigenous Andean artists adopted techniques imported by artists from Europe. The resulting artistic hybridity allows this painting to make sense in both Spanish and Incan contexts. In the eyes of an indigenous inhabitant of Cusco the child in this painting might evoke both the Sapa Inka, or supreme Inkan ruler, as well as the Christian savior.  Both the Sapa Inka and Jesus were associated with solar symbolism: the Sapa Inka was the son of the sun god, and Jesus was the lux mundi or “light of the world.”  In St. Joseph and the Christ Child, both figures have detailed sunburst halos and gleaming gold robes to illustrate this solar association. The flamboyant golden robes also displayed the visual bilingualism of the Andean artists. Fabrics receive particular attention in Cusco School paintings. The Inka people of pre-conquest Peru highly valued textiles, and the prestige bestowed by fabrics continued long after the Spanish colonized the region. A painting such as St. Joseph and the Christ Child would have evoked the lavishness of an Incan textile with its cultural connection but also fit in with current Spanish styles.


A person deemed holy by a religious tradition, especially in Roman Catholicism.

A broad, diverse group of nations ruled by the government of a single nation.

A system of rule with a monarch as its head; or the hereditary system passed from one monarch to another.

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