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Can you help me identify the saints in this painting?

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I want to use this painting for picture/artist study at Christmastime, but I can't identify who's who in the painting, and I'd like to be able to speak about it somewhat knowledgeably. I'm thinking that Mary and Joseph are the two on the left, but I don't know for sure. Also, is there any significance to the angels looking down from the heavens, or are they simply angels looking down from the heavens?


Also, on a side note, is there a reason that Mary is often portrayed in blue and red?


TIA for your help!

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It tells you who they are underneath. Or do you mean which one is which in the picture?


Yes, sorry! I meant which is which.


Oh, and another question--why does Joseph always look so sad in these paintings? I mean, I can imagine why he might be sad in the situation, but I'm not at all sure that that's the reason he's actually portrayed that way.

Edited by melissel
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Francis is between Mary and Joseph and MM is on the right. I have read that the sadness one sometimes sees in the faces of Mary or Joseph is a reflection of the knowlege of what is ahead for their Son. The color blue symbolizes heaven and love - its also the color of truth. Red is of course the color of blood, associated with emotions and also a symbol of love. Red can reflect sovereignty, but not in the case of Mary, really. Many martyred saints wear red, in early church depictions.


Mary Magdalene is often depicted as an example of a penitent sinner, absolved from sin through faith in Christ - she will also witness the burial of Jesus, along with His mother.


St. Francis, the founder of the Order of "Frati Minori" (lesser brothers) - he was supposed to have recieved the marks of stigmata, indicating spiritual identity with Jesus. He is often shown receiving the Christ child from Mary in church pictorials.

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Forgot - The angels show that heavenly contact is maintained with the created universe, for they are the executors of the Will of God. They would also act as a heavenly chorus for all important events. FYI - in Christian art there are 3 "tiers" of angels - Tier One: Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones

Tier Two: Dominations, Virtues and Powers and Tier Three; Princedoms, Archangels and Angels. :)

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If you read a bio of each saint, you'll be able to identify them. Mary Magdalene is known for her devotion to a life a sensuality in her pre-Christ days. Later, she is traditionally the woman who bathed His feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and annointed Hm with perfumed oils. The jar (of perfummed oils) is one of her typical symbols. She is also often pictured with the jar and long, uncovered hair. In this case, so is Our Lady so that isnt' as much of a help.


St. John the Baptist is almost always pictured as quite a bit older than Jesus eventhough he was only around 6 monts older. Here, the artists is showing an older child so that's the first hint. The second hint to always look for with St. John the Baptist is that he will be pointing, usually to Christ or Heaven. I can't really tell if he's pointing with that rt hand or not but I can see that it isnt' to Jesus or heaven, perhaps to Our Lady but I don't really see that often. Another major symbol for John is the rough cloth he's wearing. He's almost always pictured, no matter what age, in his desert rags. Also, the reed cross is an almost constant symbol. In this pic, you do have the garment, the reed cross, and the (as usual inaccurate) closeness in age.


St. Francis vowed himself to a life of extreme poverty. His garments are always what we now consider franciscan -- than brown robe he's wearing -- and usually tattered or patched. It's hard to tell from this pic but it is there: St. Francis had the stigmata and is usually pictured with it showing somehow. Those dots on the backs of his hands are the stigmata. Also, he's not bald, that's his tonsure.


You can tell that the two on the other side are Mary and Joseph b/c they're all touching and presented as a single unit. Also, the young mother, considerably older father and him with his staff. That staff is often figured with Joseph and it's often shown with the end in flower. According to tradition, All the eligable men were called to the temple b/c God had made it known to the priests that each man should lay his staff in the temple and God would show who should be the spouse of Mary. Joseph didn't consider himself an eligible candidate for the young girl so he didn't show. No sign was given so the priests put their heads together and decided that someone was holding out. They rounded up Joseph and lay his staff with the others. The next morning his staff alone had blossomed, usually with lillies, on one end. That's why the staff, sometimes with lillies, and as an older man are Joseph's symbols. Often Joseph needs no symbol b/c his place with Jesus and Mary are enough.


Mary is almost always pictured in blue, especially in the Western tradition. Sometimes she's in red or gold or both or all. In this case, all. The context gives it all away in this picture. Who else could it be, kwim?


And don't worry that this picture couldn't possibly have happened. St. Francis himself is the father of the "nativity scene" and it's almost never what you'd call accurate. Also, Christian art is full of anachronisms. The artists want to tell a story or flatter a patron or both or something else entirely. ***I have no idea*** about this particular painting. However, the people and places often tell a secular story, as well. For example, and again I have no idea about this one in particular, the cities behind the shepherds could be the cities of two different but very important families. The Mary could be actually modeled from the daughter of one house who is being offered in marriage to another house and the closeness of the cities is symbolic of the unity/closeness of the two families to come and the symbolic pairing of Mary and the daughter an advertisement of the purity of the daughter . . . and her beauty.


What story that background is telling I dont' know. WHat I do know is that it's telling one.


I hope that helps you. When viewing Catholic art, always keep in mind the story of the saints and then you'll know the people in the picture by the symbols they carry.

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Here is a website that talks about the use of colors in the Bible:




And here is a very old, interesting scholarly article that discusses the symbols and attributes of Mary:




Red has, in many world cultures, long had a reputation as the first and most important among colors. It is associated with the strength of life. In the Bible, there is a "red cord" that runs from beginning to end: from Adam (which means "ruddy") through the binding of Isaac; from the sacrificial lambs to the offering of the red heifer; from the Passover painting of the red line over the lintels to the parting of the Red Sea; from Rahab's red cord in the window right through to Christ's passion and beyond. The red cord binds us together and to our Father....


I have read in scholarly works that "Mary" was a term for a wise woman in the Israel of Jesus' time and that these wise women may all have worn red as a symbol of their status.


Blue is the second most important color, linking heaven and earth and symbolizing purity, serenity and other attributes that Mary certainly must have possessed.


And remember, blue and red make purple, the color of royalty - so perhaps showing them together but not blended symbolized for some artists the hidden royalty of Jesus (just as the black Madonnas of many parts of the world may symbolize hidden knowledge on Mary's part of what was to come for Jesus, etc.)

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