Most paintings seem to portray St. Joseph as an old man and his wife St. Mary as much younger. Abp. Fulton Sheen—arguing in "The World's Happiest Marriage" that "Joseph was probably a young man, strong, virile, athletic, handsome, chaste, and disciplined"—gives the example of Guido Reni, who "pictured Joseph as an old man with white hair": Guido Reni's «Holy Family»

Which paintings portray a young St. Joseph (i.e., one nearer to St. Mary's age)?

  • 3
    This seems like it's probably overbroad... Sep 8, 2017 at 9:51
  • Lots of pictures portray St. Joseph as a young man.
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 8, 2017 at 17:05
  • St John the Baptist is also pictured as an old man whereas he could have just crossed thirty when beheaded by Herod. Sep 13, 2017 at 10:14

2 Answers 2


Paintings of the Holy Family with a young St. Joseph?

There are numerous paintings depicting the foster father of Our Lord as a relatively young man. In fact, this seems to be one of those traditions within the Church that does not have a strong historical backing to it. It seems to be more of a popular tradition than actually related to Sacred Tradition.

Saint Joseph in the teachings of Saint Josemaría

From his earliest writings, Saint Josemaría describes Saint Joseph as a young man, perhaps a bit older than our Lady, but imbued with vigor and strength: "The Holy Patriarch was not an old man, but a young, strong, upright man, a great lover of loyalty, a man with fortitude. Holy Scripture defines him with a single word: just (see Mt 1:20-21). Joseph was a just man, a man filled with all the virtues, as was fitting for the one who was to be God's protector on earth."

Underlying these words is the conviction that God, on giving a vocation, gives the graces suitable to the one who receives it, and therefore he adorned Saint Joseph with all the gifts of nature and grace that made him a suitable spouse of our Lady and head of the Holy Family.

Saint Josemaría's emphasis on the youthfulness of Joseph finds support in three fundamental reasons: in reading Sacred Scripture with common sense (which presents his espousal to our Lady as something normal, and the marriage of a young girl with an old man would not have been viewed as normal); in the communion of spirits proper to marriage (the love existing between them); and above all in the conviction that holy purity is not a question of age, but rather stems from love.

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"I don't agree with the traditional picture of St Joseph as an old man, even though it may have been prompted by a desire to emphasis the perpetual virginity of Mary. I see him as a strong young man, perhaps a few years older than our Lady, but in the prime of his life and work. You don't have to wait to be old or lifeless to practice the virtue of chastity. Purity comes from love; and the strength and joy of youth are no obstacle for noble love. Joseph had a young heart and a young body when he married Mary, when he learned of the mystery of her divine motherhood, when he lived in her company, respecting the integrity God wished to give the world as one more sign that he had come to share the life of his creatures."

For Saint Josemaría it was "unacceptable" to present Joseph as an old man for the purpose of silencing the "evil thinkers." And it was equally unacceptable to doubt the truth of his marriage to our Lady, as well as to fail to take into consideration the love that existed between them.

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Saint Josemaría was enamored of Joseph's life of work, and he considered him a teacher of interior life in that life of intense and humble work. "For he teaches us to know Jesus and share our life with him, and to realize that we are part of God's family. Joseph "can teach us these lessons, because he is an ordinary man, a family man, a worker who earned his living by manual labor—all of which has great significance and is a source of happiness for us." The figure of Saint Joseph also speaks to us of the need to be always apostolic, for he knew how to turn his work into an opportunity to "make Jesus known." - Saint Josemaria and the Role of Saint Joseph in Christian Life

In Bartolomé Esteban Murillo‘s painting of the Holy Family with Bird, c. 1650, St. Joseph is portrayed as a relatively young man.

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During the Middle Ages, Joseph the senior citizen became a stock figure in literature and art. Portrayals of Joseph as old and grey reached their height in Renaissance and Baroque-era paintings, such as Guido Reni’s 1640 “St. Joseph and the Christ Child,” in which a kindly, grandfatherly Joseph cradles the baby Jesus in his arms. Such images were a far cry from the earliest depictions of the saint. In the 5th century mosaics at Rome’s Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Joseph appears hale and hearty and somewhat buff, in keeping with his stated profession in the Gospels as a tekton, a Greek word which could mean carpenter, but might more accurately be translated into modern English as “construction worker.” - Joseph Wasn’t Twice Mary’s Age.

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The Matthean annunciation to Joseph is represented in seamless transition from the Lukan annunciation to Mary. The greater prominence given to the annunciation to Mary suggests a prioritization of Luke over Matthew in chronology and significance, though both announcements are parallel. The rod held in Joseph’s hand derives from the Infancy Gospel of Matthew, and it symbolizes Joseph’s divine commission as Mary’s protector. - S. Maria Maggiore, Rome


St. Joseph and St. John numerous portrait depicting and older man is good way for the artist to convey an image of a chaste man. We know that a young man struggles to control the urges of flesh which is associated to concupiscence.Even St. Paul who experienced mystical conversion still had to struggle with the law of the flesh.

Romans 7:15-24 New International Version (NIV)

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

Artist depicting a young man would convey doubts, if St. Joseph can be able to hold on his Church given title invoking his powerful intercession on the following litanies;


Illustrious Scion of David, Light of Patriarchs, Spouse of the Mother of God, Chaste guardian of the Virgin, Foster-father of the Son of God, Watchful defender of Christ, Head of the Holy Family,

Joseph most just, Joseph most chaste, Joseph most prudent, Joseph most valiant, Joseph most obedient, Joseph most faithful,

Mirror of patience, Lover of poverty, Model of workmen, Example to parents, Guardian of virgins, Pillar of families, Solace of the afflicted, Hope of the sick, Patron of the dying, Terror of demons, Protector of the Church, pray for us.

Prayers and Litany of Saint Joseph

From the Litany of St. Joseph which the Church acknowledged, it depicted a young and strong worker and defender. It is nowhere described St. Joseph as an old man.Let's see how Blessed Catherine Emmerich describe the appearance of St. Joseph before marrying the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Then I saw that messengers were sent throughout the land and all unmarried men of the line of David summoned to the Temple. When these were assembled in large numbers at the Temple in festal garments, the Blessed Virgin was presented to them. Among them I saw a very devout youth from the region of Bethlehem; he had always prayed with great fervor for the fulfillment of the Promise, and I discerned in his heart an ardent longing to become Mary’s husband. She, however, withdrew again into her cell in tears, unable to bear the thought that she should not remain a virgin.

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Based on the sketch drawing of the vision of Blessed Catherine Emmerich, if we based it on the caricature of the face and try to match it with available painting the closest I found of a young image of St. Joseph is this one;

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The biblical account of St. Joseph in the "Flight into Egypt" following the angel command for him to accompanied Jesus & Mary to travel by foot from Jerusalem to Egypt, an old man could not make it physically. Not to mentioned they will return to Jerusalem after King Herod death by foot again. Also, carpentry works requires physical strength which St.Joseph teaches for 18 long years Jesus hidden life in Galilee.

In closing, St. Joseph depicted by so many artist as an old does not represent his true physical appearance but more of an artist way of presenting a just man living a chaste life. An old man depicted and acknowledge by the world as already passed or no longer interested in the affairs of the flesh.

  • The idea of "old Joseph" comes from the Infancy Gospel of James (Protoevangelium of James). This portrayal was to "explain" the ever-virgin motif.
    – SLM
    Mar 31, 2019 at 3:52
  • How does this answer the question: Which paintings portray a young St. Joseph (i.e., one nearer to St. Mary's age)?
    – Ken Graham
    Mar 31, 2019 at 4:26
  • @KenGraham have you not seen the attachment of St.Joseph sketch according to description of Blessed Emmerich? In her vision that how he saw Joseph in his wedding garments and he said that St.joseph was young.Have you read carefully and comprehend my answer? Mar 31, 2019 at 4:36
  • Yes I see that, but the OP wants a painting or image of a young St. Joseph.
    – Ken Graham
    Mar 31, 2019 at 12:12
  • 1
    @KenGraham I added a young painting of St.Joseph the closest to sketch drawing of St.Joseph face by Blessed Emmerich visions, hope this one would be acceptable.Thanks Mar 31, 2019 at 22:37

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