The painting is dated to around 1597-99 and made use of oils on canvas, which was how the artist worked for most of his career (there are some alternative works in tempera earlier in his life). He was tasked with providing art for the chapel within this church, with the high altar and side altars left ready for his contributions. He became the most prominent artist in this part of Spain for a number of years and was often asked to produce series of paintings that could provide a consistent finish across a room. The overall project ran from 1597-1599 but it is hard to date specific paintings within that, and so each one tends to carry the span of the overall series. The other artworks that he produced for this building were Coronation of the Virgin, Saint Martin and the Beggar and the Virgin and Child with Saints. St Joseph and the Christ Child is not amongst his most famous paintings, despite being technically impressive, perhaps because it is not held within a high profile art collection, such as at the Prado Museum in Madrid, where his work receives much more attention.
Besides Saint Joseph and the Christ Child, who stand in the foreground, there is plenty else to appreciate within this painting. Toledo itself is shown behind them, and this attractive setting would feature in the background of many paintings towards the end of the century. El Greco felt the colours of this environment and its hilly nature perfectly suited the expressive style of his paintings and so he would include it alongside his religious content. It is therefore entirely fitting that the piece was intended to be displayed within Toledo, and that it remains there today. Saint Joseph is particularly tall in comparison to the child, with a symbolism being used to underline his strength in protecting the child. Behind we also see an expressive sky scene which was entirely typical of the artist, making this piece instantly recognisable as either from El Greco or perhaps a follower. Research has concluded it to be the former, with documentaton available on the original agreement that he had for the overall series.
El Greco was classed as a Mannerist artist, but in truth his style was entirely unique. He took elements from others, but forged his own direction by adding large amounts of flair and emotion. Some consider Renaissance art to be stale, but it would be hard to label El Greco's work in the same way. Despite this contemporary approach he was still able to find success within his own lifetime and it was his time in Spain which was the most significant. His path through Crete and Italy before arriving in Toledo allowed El Greco to draw in different influences and some how he was able to merge them together into a style which worked. His popularity today is perhaps as strong today as it ever has been, helped by his use of expressive content which can excite even the most modern-minded of art followers.