Saint Joseph's dreams are four dreams described in the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament in which Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, is visited by an angel of the Lord and receives specific instructions and warnings of impending danger. All four dreams come from the period around the Nativity of Jesus and his early life, between the onset of Mary's pregnancy and the family's return from the Flight to Egypt. They are often distinguished by numbers as "Joseph's first dream" and so on. Especially in art history, the first may be referred to as the Annunciation to Joseph.
The four dreams are as follows:
- First dream: In Matthew 1:20-21, Joseph is told not be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because she has conceived by the Holy Spirit. (See also the Annunciation in Luke 1:26-38, when an angel visits Mary and she agrees to conceive "through the power of the Most High".)
- Second dream: In Matthew 2:13, Joseph is warned to leave Bethlehem and flee to Egypt.
- Third dream: In Matthew 2:19-20, while in Egypt, Joseph is told that it is safe to go back to Israel.
- Fourth dream: In Matthew 2:22, because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee instead of going to Judea.
The dreams have sometimes been depicted in art, though they have never been among the most common subjects from the Life of Jesus in art or the Life of the Virgin. It is often unclear which dream is intended. The second dream is probably most often depicted, and if there is no other indication it can be assumed that is the subject. If the Virgin Mary is present (but no infant Jesus), especially if visibly pregnant or shown spinning, this suggests the first dream, which tends to be shown in an indoor setting. An outside setting may suggest the second dream, as does the angel pointing outside the picture space, urging Joseph to leave. The tools of his carpentry workshop are often shown around him, probably indicating the second dream, although logically there seems to be no reason why these should not be present for the first and third dreams as well. In the absence of a place in a sequence, inscribed text, a title, or decor showing a setting in Egypt, the third and fourth dreams can generally be ruled out where there is uncertainty.
Toros Roslin, 1262
The first dream, as shown by the angel's banderole, fresco, 1360
Second dream, Rembrandt and workshop, 1640s
Bernardo Cavallino, c. 1645. Given the size of Jesus, and the basic accommodation, this might be the 3rd dream.
Antonio Ciseri, 19th century
The 2nd dream, Daniele Crespi, 1620-1630
Mengs 18th century
Gaetano Gandolfi, c. 1790
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