Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Saint Luke, Evangelist, Physician and Painter


Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano
Saint Luke
Italian, c.1500
London, National Gallery


October 18 is the feast day of Saint Luke, the Evangelist, author of the third Synoptic Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles.  “Early Christian tradition, from the late second century on, identifies the author of this gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles as Luke, a Syrian from Antioch, who is mentioned in the New Testament in Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24 and 2 Timothy 4:11. The prologue of the gospel makes it clear that Luke is not part of the first generation of Christian disciples but is himself dependent upon the traditions he received from those who were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word (Luke 1:2). His two-volume work marks him as someone who was highly literate both in the Old Testament traditions according to the Greek versions and in Hellenistic Greek writings.”

“Because of its dependence on the Gospel of Mark and because details in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 13:35a; 19:43–44; 21:20; 23:28–31) imply that the author was acquainted with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, the Gospel of Luke is dated by most scholars after that date; many propose A.D. 80–90 as the time of composition.”
Saint Luke
From Gospel Book
Byzantine (Constantinople), 964
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Grec 70, fol. 190v




“Luke’s consistent substitution of Greek names for the Aramaic or Hebrew…, his omission from the gospel of specifically Jewish Christian concerns …, his interest in Gentile Christians…, and his incomplete knowledge of Palestinian geography, customs, and practices are among the characteristics of this gospel that suggest that Luke was a non-Palestinian writing to a non-Palestinian audience that was largely made up of Gentile Christians.”1



Christ in Majesty Surrounded by the Four Evangelists
From Premiere Bible of Charles the Bald,
Known as the Vivien Bible
French (Tours), c. 845-851
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France_
MS Latin 1, fol. 329v





Traditionally, Saint Luke has been venerated as one of the four Gospel authors.  Like the other three evangelists he is also represented by one of the four winged creatures from the vision of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:5-11).  In the case of Luke his symbol is the ox.  In the ancient world (and in some places even today) the ox (a castrated bull) was both an animal for hard draught work, pulling heavy loads and the plow, but also the ultimate animal for sacrifice.  Thus, Luke is associated with the patience of the draught animal and the sacrificial aspects of Christ’s life.

Saint Paul mentions Luke is several of his Epistles and in one, Letter to the Colossians, Paul tells his correspondents that “Luke the beloved physician sends greetings” (Colossians 4:14).  Consequently, Luke is believed to have been a Greek-trained physician, traveling in the company of Saint Paul.







Luke is also the Gospel writer whom we associate most intimately with Christmas for it is he whose voice we hear every time that the Christmas story is told.  Luke begins his Gospel (after a short introduction to a person named Theophilus) with the events leading up to the birth of Jesus, starting with the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist to John’s father Zechariah.  The details of the story, which Luke promised Theophilus he had investigated “everything accurately anew” (Luke 1:3) have led to the tradition that Luke was in contact with the Blessed Virgin Mary, probably in her later home at Ephesus. 

Jacques de Besancon, Saint Luke
From Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris), c. 1480-1490
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 245, fol. 141v





This, in turn, led to a pious tradition, which dates back to eighth century Byzantium, that Luke, in addition to his medical skills, was an artist and that he painted the first icon of the Virgin Mary from life.  By the middle ages this tradition had spread to the West as well and was widely depicted.  It became especially prominent during the Renaissance period, when artists began to attempt to raise their own social standing.  Guilds dedicated to Saint Luke were formed in nearly every large city.  The guilds were somewhat like trade unions.  However, in addition to building chapels and meeting places for themselves, they also established training programs for aspiring artists, some of which survive to the present day.  Frequently, they patronized images of Saint Luke Painting the Virgin for their chapels and guildhalls, as a visible reminder that they were privileged by tradition to depict sacred things, following the example of Saint Luke.






The Iconography of Saint Luke divides into several forms.  The earliest and most common is that of the evangelist. 

Saint Luke the Evangelist

Saint Luke may be depicted as an evangelist alone, but he is also frequently seen as one of the group of four.  Indeed, some of what seem today to be solo pictures were actually once part of a group of evangelists, each given a separate picture, and now dispersed widely dispersed. 
Christ in Majesty
From Codex Aureus of Saint Emmeram,
German (Westphalia), c. 879
Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
MS Clm 14000
Christ in Majesty
From the Gospels of the Sainte Chapelle
German (Treves), c. 984
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 8851, fol. 1v


Richard de Montbaston, Christ in Majesty with the Four Evangelists
From Histoire ancienne jusqu'a cesar
French (Paris), 1325-1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 251,

_Jean Colombe, The Four Evangelists
From Vita Jesu Christi by Ludolph of Saxony
French (Bourges), c. 1475-1500
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 179, fol. 211v

One of the most common ways in which Luke’s image was presented in the early middle ages was in the form of an evangelist “portrait” in the Bible.  In these Bibles, often works of great beauty, produced for the kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire in imperial workshops, the text of each of the Gospels was preceded by a “portrait” of the writer.  

Saint Luke the Evangelist
From a Gospel Book
Irish, c. 750-800
London, British Library
MS Additional 40618, 21v

Saint Luke the Evangelist
From the Gospels of Saint-Medard de Soissons
German (Aachen), c. 800
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 8850, fol. 123v




























Saint Luke the Evangelist
From the Ebbo Gospels
French, c. 816-835
Epernay, Bibliotheque municipale
MS 1
Saint Luke the Evangelist
From the Gospels of Lothar
French (Tours), c. 849-851
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 266, fol. 112v





























Saint Luke the Evangelist
From the Gospels of the Sainte Chapelle
German (Treves), c. 984
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 8851, fol. 75v

Saint Luke the Evangelist
From the Gospels of Otto III
German (Reichenau), c.1000
Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
MS Clm.4453



























In addition, Luke may be represented in a picture or other type of artwork by his symbol, the ox that sometimes is winged, sometimes is not.


Beginning of the Gospel of Luke
From the Royal Bible
English (Canterbury), c. 800-850
London, British Library
MS Royal 1 E VI, fol. 43
Maius, Symbol of Saint Luke
From the Commentary on the Apocalypse
by Beatus of Liebana
Spanish (Leon), c. 940-950
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
 MS M644, fol. 3r


























Symbol of Saint Luke
Italian (Venice), c. 1300
Boston, Museum of Fine Art



Plaque with Symbol of Saint Luke
Mosan, c. 1150
Paris, Musee du Louvre
























Symbol of Saint Luke
From a Book of Hours
French, c. 1517-1527
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 1135, fol. 16r
The ox is also frequently seen accompanying Luke in the evangelist portraits and in other similar images of Luke.  Perhaps because of the four symbolic creatures the ox is the most familiar, being a common domestic animal, Luke’s ox was frequently depicted in an almost doglike role, more as a companion than as a sacred symbol.  The ox is often depicted in poses reminiscent of dogs, seated at his master’s feet, or at his knee, or what appears to be playful interaction.

Saint Luke
From The Worms Bible
German (Middle Rhineland), c. 1150-1176
:London, British Library
MS Harley 2804, fol. 199
Saint Luke
From a Bible
Belgian (Brabant), 12th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 591, 118v



























Saint Luke
From Livre d'images de Madame Marie
Flemish (Hainaut), c. 1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition francaise 16251, fol. 74

Master of Jean de Papeleu, Saint Luke
From Bible historiale by Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c. 1300-1325
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 157, fol. 179
I suggest that you enlarge this picture (by clicking on it) so
you can see the amusing expression on the face of the ox.



























Master of the Roman de Fauvel, Saint Luke_
From Vie des saints
French (Paris), c. 1300-1325
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 183, fol. 73

Many images show Saint Luke in the act of writing. 

Saint Luke
From a Gospel Book
German (Mainz),  c.1025-1050
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 275, fol. 73v

Saint Luke
From the Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c. 1300-1325
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
Francais 160_420v






















Andrea Mantegna, Saint Luke Polyptych
Italian, c. 1453-1454
Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera

Saint Luke
From the Hours of Charles VIII of France
French, 15th Century
Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de Espana
MS MICRO 15141, fol. 2
Jean Poyet, Saint Luke
From Hours of Henry VIII
French (Tours), c. 1495-1505
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H8, fol.  9r




























Jean Bourdichon, Saint Luke
From the Hours of Frederic of Aragon
French (Tours), c. 1501-1504
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10532, fol. 42

Simon Bening, Saint Luke
From the DaCosta Hours
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1510-1520
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
Ms M399, fol.113v



























Monogrammist M S, Saint Luke
German, c. 1534
Private Collection

Giogio Vasari, Saint Luke
Italian, c. 1570-1571
Washington, National Gallery of Art

Joachim Wteweal, Saint Luke
Dutch, c. 1610-1615
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum


























Valentin de Boulogne, Saint Luke
French, c. 1620
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon




Sometimes he is shown trimming his pen.
Giovanni di Benedetto and Collaborators

Saint Luke Trimming His Pen
Italian (Milan), c. 1385-1390
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 757, fol. 206v

Saint Luke Trimming His Pen
From The Dunois Hours
French (Paris), c.1440-1450
London, British Library
MS Yates Thompson 3, fol. 15v
























Occasionally he is depicted in preaching.
_Saint Luke Painting the Virgin and Preaching
From a Book of Hours
French (Paris), c. 1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H5, fol. 9r

Saint Luke Teaching
From the Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c.1400-1415
_BNF_
MS Francais 10, fol. 515v
























One rather unusual painting, from the late nineteenth century shows Saint Luke, actually taking dictation from the Virgin Mary.  This is the only image of this kind that I have found.

Clement Oswald Skilbeck, Saint Luke Writing His Gospel at the Dictation of the Virgin Mary
English, 1892_
Bodmin (UK), Lanhydrock


Saint Luke as a Painter

This subject became very popular during the later middle ages and its popularity remained undimmed well into the nineteenth century.  Most frequently Mary is seen holding the Christ Child, but sometimes she is seen alone. Sometimes Luke is shown actually painting the image, at other times he holds it, as a kind of attribute by which he can be identified.   In other pictures, his finished portrait sits nearby.  Sometimes the Virgin and Child appear to Luke as a vision, as it should be, since, while Mary was alive it is possible to view her as physically present, but Jesus had already grown to manhood, been crucified, had risen and has ascended to heaven.  However, at other times Luke appears to be painting from life.  And, at still other times, Luke is shown working on the painting  without their presence.  

Saint Luke Painting the Virgin Mary
From a Book of Hours
French (Paris), 15th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 3115, fol. 15v
Saint Luke Painting the Virgin
From a Book of Hours
French (Paris), c. 1425-1430
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M453, fol. 14v



























Saint Luke Painting the Virgin
Italian (Milan), c. 1430
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M944, fol. 75v

Rogier van der Weyden, Saint Luke Drawing the Vrigin
Flemish, c. 1435-1440
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts

Ambrosius Benson (and Studio), Saint Luke
Flemish, 1440s
Private Collection
Saint Luke Painting the Virgin
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Bruges), c.1460
London, British Library
MS Yates Thompson 4, fol. 14v

























Bartolomeo Caporali, Saints Francis, Herculanus, Luke and James the Greater
Italian, c. 1450-1455
Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum

Dieric Bouts the Elder, Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin
Dutch, c. 1460-1475
Bangor (Wales), Penrhyn Castle
Derick Baegert, Saint Luke Painting the Virgin
German, c.1470
Muenster, Westfaelisches Landesmuseum


























Jean Colombe, Saint Luke Painting the Virgin
From the Hours of Anne of FranceFrench (Bourges), c. 1473
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 677, fol . 29v
Anonymous, Saint Luke
Byzantine (Crete), 16th Century
London, Victoria and Albert Museum




























Jean Bourdichon, Saint Luke
From the Hours of Frederic of AragonFrench (Tours), c. 1501-1504
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10532, fol. 354
Jean Bourdichon, Saint Luke
From Grandes heures d'Anne de Bretagne
French (Tours), c. 1503-1508
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9474, fol. 19v




























Saint Luke Painting the Virgin
From a Book of HoursFrench (Berry), c. 1510
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M250, fol. 17r
Vincenzo Foppa, Saint Luke
Italian, 1510-20
Milan_San Maurizio al Monstero Maggiore


























Jan Gossart, Saint Luke Painting the Virgin and Child
Flemish, c.1515
Prague, Narodni Galerie
Jan Gossart, Saint Luke Painting the Virgin
Flemish, c. 1520-1522
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Saint Luke Painting the Virgin
Flemish, c. 1635-1640
Nimes, Musee des Beaux Arts
Maerten van Heemskerck, Saint Luke Painting the Virgin and Child
Dutch, 1532
Haarlem, Frans Halsmuseum

Girolamo da Carpi, Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin
and Christ Child
Italian, c. 1535
Chicago, Art Institute
Lanceloot Blondeel, Saint Luke Painting
the Virgin and Christ Child
Flemish, 1545
Bruges, Groeninge Museum



























Frans Floris, Saint Luke Painting
Flemish, c.1560
Amtwerp. Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten
Giorgio Vasari. Saint Luke Painting the Virgin
Italian, After 1565
Florence, Church of Santissima Annunziata
























Marten de Vos, Saint Luke Painting the Virgin
Flemish, 1602
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kuensten
El Greco, Saint Luke
Greco-Spanish, c. 1605-1610
Toledo, Cathedral






















After about 1600 the incidence of this subject seems to have grown less frequent, but it was never completely abandoned.

Johann Heiss, Saint Luke
German, 1640
Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemaeldesammlunger, Alte Pinakotek

Guercino, Saint Luke Painting the Virgin and Child
Italian, c. 1652-1653
Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Pierre Mignard, Saint Luke Painting the Virgin and Child
French, c. 1670
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Marco Benefial, Saint Luke Painting the Virgin
Italian, c. 1730-1750
Senlis, Musee d'Art et d'Archeologie

Francisco Bayeu y Subias, Saint Luke
Spanish, c. 1778
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Jules Ziegler, Saint Luke Painting the Virgin and Child
French, c.1840
Dijon, Musee Magnin

One seventheenth-century painter decided to show Luke's studio.

Karel Slabbaert, The Workshop of the Evangelist Luke
Dutch, 1648
Berlin. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Preussischer Kulturbesitz

Saint Luke as a Physician

Oddly, since there is the evidence of Saint Paul’s comment, I only found one solitary image of Saint Luke as a physician. 

Juan de Sevilla, Saint Luke the Physician
Spanish, c. 1401-1435
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Saint Luke provides us with some of the most important and well-known Biblical texts.  To him we owe our knowledge of the story of the birth of Saint John the Baptist, the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity of Jesus, the story of the Magi, the Flight into Egypt, the Finding of Jesus in the Temple at twelve, the Ascension.  He is the patron of artists (and art historians) as well as of doctors and, since tradition says that he never married, of bachelors. 

Donatello, Saint Luke
Italian, c. 1428-1443
Florence, Church of San Lorenzo, Old Sacristy
Andrea della Robbia, Saint Luke
Italian, 1490
Prato, Church of Santa Maria delle Carcer






















© M. Duffy, 2017


1. Quotations are from the introduction to the Gospel of Luke on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Biblical website http://www.usccb.org/bible/scripture.cfm?bk=Luke&ch=


Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.