In my interpretation of Giorgione's Tempest as "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt" I explained the reasons why Giorgione chose to portray St. Joseph as a virile, young man. Shortly after Giorgione's death, contemporaries like Paris Bordone, and Lorenzo Lotto also depicted a virile, youthful St. Joseph in versions of the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine. Here is a discussion of Lotto's version.
|Lorenzo: Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine|
In his work on Lotto, Bernard Berenson identified the kneeling man as St. James the Greater but provided no explanation. In the catalog of the 1997/1998 Lotto exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Peter Humfrey identified the man as St. Thomas because of the spear.* A decade later in the Bellini, Giorgione, Titian exhibition in Vienna, however, the man was still identified as St. James. There is no good reason for either St. James or St. Thomas to be in the desert participating in the mystic marriage of St. Catherine.
On at least two occasions, and at about the same time as Lotto, Paris Bordone painted the mystic marriage of Catherine with a rustic-looking, vigorous Joseph playing a prominent role.
One of Bordone’s versions was featured in the same Bellini, Giorgione, Titian exhibition. In that painting Joseph’s muscular, bare foreleg is evidence of his role as the proxy for the mystic union of Catherine with the Christ child. The other version is at the Hermitage and also features the muscular, bare leg. In that version the Madonna has already passed the infant Christ to Joseph.