St Luke Drawing the Virgin (15th century)

Van der Weyden, Rogier (c.1399-1464)

St Luke Drawing the Virgin
15th century
Oil on canvas, 102.5 x 108.5 cm
Hermitage MuseumSaint Petersburg

The subject is taken from a 6th-century legend of Greek origin, according to which St Luke was the first ever to draw a portrait of the Virgin Mary. Artists saw Luke as the patron of their art. Rogier van der Weyden set the action in an open loggia. To the left, at the foot of a throne, sits the Virgin, feeding the Christ Child. The throne, hinting at her future status as the Queen of Heaven, is decorated with sculptural figures of Adam and Eve, indicating that Christ and the Virgin will atone for their Original Sin. Opposite the Madonna, St Luke has sunk respectfully to his knees as he seeks to capture her appearance. The artist manages to convey both Luke’s trembling reverence and his concentration on his drawing. Behind St Luke we can just see a bull and a book, both traditional attributes of the Apostle Luke. Two figures contemplating the landscape from the battlements possibly represent Joachim and Anna, the Virgin’s parents. (SHM)