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Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

In collaboration with the National Gallery of Art

Luke, St

(b Antioch, 1st century AD; d Greece; fd 18 Oct). Saint, evangelist and patron of artists. One of the Four Evangelists, he was a gentile and a doctor, according to St Paul, who called him ‘our beloved Luke, the physician’ (Colossians 4:14). He wrote the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. He earned a reputation as an accurate observer, particularly of women, in his Gospel. His identification as ‘an artist with words’ probably led to the assumption that he also worked as a painter. In Byzantium mention of St Luke the Evangelist painting a portrait of the Virgin arose between the 5th and 6th centuries (Mango, p. 40). The Byzantine author John of Damascus (c. 675–c. 749) identified St Luke as the painter of the Virgin’s portrait in his defence of sacred images. References to Luke as a painter did not appear in Latin literature until the late 12th century. . . . Because Luke was both doctor and artist, the medieval trade system placed physicians, apothecaries and painters in the same guild under his protection, and thus St Luke became the patron of painters. . . . He is frequently portrayed at the easel, painting the Virgin’s portrait. His symbols include an ink pot and pen (the attributes of a writer), the winged ox or calf and the half-length portrait of the Virgin.

Eunice D. Howe