Art historians have not yet reached a consensus concerning this painting, perhaps the most marvellous of all, not on whether to attribute it to Georges de La Tour, which is unanimous, but on its subject matter. We do not know exactly what topic is being represented, but most probably it is meant as an annunciation to Joseph: the angel appearing to Saint Joseph and disclosing the imminence of his extraordinary paternity.
Joseph would thus be fast asleep on the right, and the strange personage in front of him would be an Angel. Here again, a comparison with Caravaggio springs immediately to mind. The Angel has no wings, somewhat like the one appearing to Saint Matthew in the Contarelli chapel S. Luigi dei Francesi, the French church in Rome. The apparition's supernatural presence has to do with the lighting. In the painting of Job, light conveyed the difficult situation in which the latter found himself. Here the source of light is hidden by the Angel's sleeve, only to illuminate her face all the more strongly, highlighting her divinely radiating presence. The ocher darkness absorbing Joseph provides a strong contrast. A masked or hidden source of light conveys the idea of a mysterious presence, something unexpected, and ensures exceptional, indeed mystical, intensity.
Before continuing any further, a look at another detail illustrating the pictorial mastery of our LunÚville master: the candlestick that is so subtly captured in the few reflections that shine forth from the background darkness.