Limestone Head of Joseph

Date: ca. 1230

Culture: French

Medium: Limestone with traces of polychromy

Dimensions: Overall: 6 3/4 x 5 5/16 x 4 1/16 in. (17.1 x 13.5 x 10.3 cm)
ht with block: 10 1/4 in. (26.1 cm)

Classification: Sculpture-Stone

Credit Line: Purchase, Scher Chemicals Inc. and Audrey Love Charitable Foundation Gifts; Anonymous Gift, in honor of Charles T. Little; William and Toni Conte and Stephen K. Scher Gifts; and funds from various donors, 2007

Accession Number: 2007.143


Naturalistically carved in a fine-grained limestone, this head of a bearded man wearing a cap has an inquisitive and expectant air that is enhanced by the delicate lines on the forehead. The physical beauty of the carving and the serene quality of the man's expression are characteristic of some of the greatest Gothic sculptures of northern France. This head can be directly linked to the decoration of the celebrated choir screen erected in Chartres Cathedral about 1230 that displayed scenes in relief of the infancy of Christ. Because the cathedral possessed the relic of the tunic of the Virgin, the choir screen images emphasized scenes from her life. A join on the back of this head closely corresponds with one on the now headless figure of Joseph leaning forward to offer a cloth to the resting Mary in the relief of the Nativity that occupied a central position on the choir screen. After the screen was dismantled in 1763, the blocks of the narrative scenes were recycled into floor pavements, and most of the heads were dispersed. Other heads from the screen have been identified in recent years in American public and private collections.