St Joseph the Worker

‘St Joseph’ by Eric Gill
Wood engraving, 1921, from Saint Dominic’s calendar, A. D. 1922
Ditchling, Sussex: printed at St Dominic’s Press, [1921]
Syn.6.91.22(8), March

The artists’ guild at Ditchling was dedicated jointly to St Joseph and St Dominic. The rules of the guild described it as a ‘society of Catholic craftsmen who wish to make the Catholic Faith the rule, not only of their lives but of their workmanship’. Of the two saints, St Joseph, the carpenter, was therefore the primary patron. The rules explained that love of neighbour required that work ‘be done according to an absolute standard of serviceableness. Good quality is therefore twofold, work must be good in itself and good for use.’

The engraving by Eric Gill for ‘March’ in ‘Saint Dominic’s calendar’ for 1922 is entitled ‘Of S. Joseph’. It is based upon a drawing by his eldest daughter Elizabeth Gill, and seemingly shows the saint dressed in the kind of smock in which Eric Gill himself used to work. He embraces and lifts aloft the Christ-child who in turn embraces the man’s head in a scene unfamiliar from religious iconography, but quite possibly witnessed by the artists among the families at Ditchling. Neither the saint nor the Saviour are given a halo, reducing the distance between the sacred past and the secular present. The carpenter’s tools lie at the workman’s feet. The tree in the background may stand both for the wood in which the artist works, and the cross on which the Saviour will be lifted up in His Passion.

Extended captions