The iconography in "Nazareth," in the Church of St. Charles Borromeo, Bloomington IN
The painting is inspired by meditation on the second chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians, wherein Saint Paul advises us to imitate the humility of Christ, who 'emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross.'
So we should never act out of rivalry and conceit, but rather think of others as superior to ourselves, looking to others' needs. This applies to the Church and to the family, which is a little church. The Holy Family sets the example.
The boy Jesus is obedient to Joseph and Mary. He learns carpentry andworks in the shop. He does what Joseph tells him to do, just as he always obeys his Father, even when God the Father wills that he carry the cross to Golgotha. Hence in the painting Joseph holds a compass, a measuring tool used in designing and building, but here also alluding to God's work of creating and ordering all things.
In the foreground we see bread and wine, and above these a path leads into the distance, symbolizing our path of mission, a continuation of Christ's own path, as we go forth each day and each week from our Eucharist.
Mary, who gave birth to the Lamb of God when she yielded her own substance entirely to the Holy Spirit, spins wool into thread to clothe her family. We ourselves are her family, because Mary is the Mother of all the Church, the Body of Christ, and Mother Church clothes us in Christ when we are baptized. Mary and the Church are described in Chapter 31 of Proverbs as the perfect wife and mother, who plants a vineyard (seen in the background) and spins wool with distaff and spindle.
The purple cloth above Mary alludes to the veil of the temple, because when God became incarnate within Mary the symbolism of the temple veil (which both revealed and hid God's presence) was fulfilled. Henceforth God is with us fully and definitively, ready to transform us if we will yield ourselves to his grace.