St Joseph, St Peter, Jean Gerson and the Guelphs

Richardson, Carol (2012). St Joseph, St Peter, Jean Gerson and the Guelphs. Renaissance Studies, 26(2) pp. 243–268.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1477-4658.2011.00724.x

Abstract

The representation of St Joseph in Renaissance art has attracted scholarly attention in recent years, but not that of St Peter. Considering his prevalence in late antique and medieval art, Peter's artistic representation in the early modern period is remarkably rare. This article finds that the two saints were inextricably linked, particularly after the period of councils in the first half of the fifteenth century. It examines the significance of their conflation through the writings of Jean Gerson at the Council of Constance when the role and nature of a single pope to replace the three of the Great Schism was being debated. Joseph, as protector of the Holy Family and of the infant Jesus, was paralleled with Peter who accompanied the adult Christ: Joseph's marriage to the Virgin Mary was a model for the metaphorical marriage of Christ to his Church which he delegated Peter to look after as his vicar. Therefore Joseph was a model for the successors of Peter – the popes – to follow. The imagery was particularly relevant in a Guelph context, which ensured its prevalence until the period of the Italian Wars.

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