The Counter Reformation regenerated the previously somewhat neglected Joseph as a cult figure. He became the object of writings and paintings. The topic fit in quite naturally with the times, and was no mark of originality. It was in fact interwoven into the very fabric of contemporary preoccupations, already quite devoted to the Saviour's childhood.
Here a young child helps his father, a carpenter.
The old man, bent low over his chore, is facing the child, who stands motionless and whose face is bathed in light. With the flame he carries to illuminate the adult's work, he is actually shedding light on himself. This light makes him unreal, and the unrealistic transparency of his hand heightens the supernatural effect. A simple workshop scene has been transformed into a divine event: commonplace reality is transfigured into by the lighting.
Once again, moreover, the staging of only two persons serves as a masterful device. Joseph, leaning heavily on his drill, together with the flame and the child's leg, describe a set of verticals allowing the eye to travel back and forth from top to bottom of the painting. But the light attracts us, drawing us from father to Son. And it is the luminous presence of the Son, standing attentively straight, that provides the scene with its definitive stability.
La Tour's extraordinary technical prowess comes through for instance in the detail of the Saint's head, in the mastery of his craggy face, or in the beard, which boasts artistic liberty that far surpasses the painstaking realism of the XVIIth century. With the slightest stretch of imagination, one finds traces of the masters to come - the light touch of a Corot or the suggestive flick of a brush of a Turner!