Giotto, The Arena Chapel Frescoes: St. Joseph and the Rods

Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy

In the Protevangelium of James, §§8-9, the "council of the priests" of the Temple tells the High Priest to "stand by the altar" and pray for guidance regarding who should be chosen as Mary's spouse. When he does, an angel appears and tells him to call together all "the widowers of the people" and have them bring their staffs. In this way, the angel says, the High Priest will know whom God has chosen.

In this image, the third in Giotto's sequence on the life of Mary, the men bring their staffs to the priest, who stands at the entrance to the Temple. St. Joseph is the man on the far left with a beard and a halo, waiting patiently while the others present their staffs. He is pictured as older than they because in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew he "brought his rod along with the young men" and in the Protevangelium he protests that he should not be chosen to wed Mary because "I am an old man, and she is a young girl."

The man in green on the far right is not easy to identify. His hand is on what looks like a staff, so he could be one of the "widowers." Or, being so ancient in contrast to the men on the left, he could be a member of the "council" who is helping the High Priest to gather the staffs.

In the next panel in the sequence the staffs will be on the altar while the men wait outside. The outcome, a dove flying out from Joseph's staff, is not separately pictured; instead, we see the staff and dove in the fifth panel, the marriage of Joseph and Mary.

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Read more about images of St. Joseph.
Read more about Mary's marriage to St. Joseph.

Photographed at the chapel by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.