Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin
|Artist||Rogier van der Weyden|
|Type||Oil and tempera on oak panel|
|Dimensions||137.5 cm × 110.8 cm (54.1 in × 43.6 in)|
|Location||Museum of Fine Arts, Boston|
Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin is an oil-on-oak panel painting by the Netherlandish artist Rogier van der Weyden. It depicts Luke the Evangelist, the patron saint of artists, drawing the Virgin Mary as she holds the Child Jesus. Van der Weyden likely made the painting between 1435 and 1440 for the Guild of Saint Luke in Brussels, patrons to the painter. The panel was probably one of van der Weyden's first as the City Painter of Brussels following his apprenticeship with Robert Campin. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where it is held, describes the work as "among the most important northern European paintings in the United States".
Van der Weyden incorporates religious iconography extensively. A representation of the Fall of Man is carved on the armrest of the Virgin's seat; Adam and Eve symbolize the role of the Virgin and Jesus in the redemption of man. Though she is seated under a damask canopy of estate, Mary sits not on the throne but on its step, representing her humility. A kneeling ox, seen at the very right in the anteroom, is a symbol of Saint Luke, and the open book represents his Gospel. In the rear, the loggia looks into an enclosed garden, hortus conclusus, an emblem of the Virgin's chastity. The artist presents a humanized Virgin and Child, as suggested by the realistic contemporary surroundings, the lack of halos, and the intimate spatial construction.
The work follows the example of Jan van Eyck's Madonna of Chancellor Rolin of c. 1435. Van der Weyden's approach is warmer, and emphasizes the artist's profession by having Saint Luke draw the Virgin Mary in silverpoint—an exacting medium implying the artist's skill and confidence. Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin is among the first known examples of the theme in Renaissance art, along with a similar work (a triptych panel) by Robert Campin. It is thought that van der Weyden included his self-portrait in the depiction of Saint Luke—a device often employed by artists to affirm their vocation and in turn, their affinity with the patron saint of the arts. As in the van Eyck Madonna, there are two figures leaning on the bridge looking into the distance. They may not be intended to carry specific identities, but have occasionally been described as Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Virgin. The figures outside are not witness to the moment depicted, implying the privileged position of both Saint Luke and the painting's viewer. Study of the underdrawing shows that van der Weyden intended to include van Eyck's motif of an angel crowning the Virgin, but omitted it from the final painting.
The painting's influence was widespread. If the panel had been part of the Guild of Saint Luke's chapel in Brussels, as has been proposed, then many artists would have been able to view and copy it. For some time it was unclear which copy of the painting was the original by van der Weyden. In addition to the Boston version, there are notable copies in Munich (Alte Pinakothek, c. 1483), St. Petersburg (The Hermitage, 1475–1500), and Bruges (Groeningemuseum, variously dated). Fragments and partial copies exist in Brussels, Kassel, Valladolid, and Barcelona.
In the early 20th century, art historians proposed that the original van der Weyden panel may be lost, with all extant versions being copies; or that one of the other panels was the original. Infrared reflectography has since revealed the unique underdrawing of the Boston version, proving that the work is by van der Weyden. Historians also gradually revised the painting's date to earlier in the artist's career, from original speculations of 1450 to the currently accepted 1435–40.
Despite the eminence of the painting and the many copies of it, little is known of its provenance before the 19th century (as of 1990). It is recorded in 1835 in the collection of Don Infante Sebastián Gabriel Borbón y Braganza, a grandnephew of Charles III of Spain, himself an artist whose inventory notes attributed the work to Lucas van Leyden and suggested an earlier restoration. It underwent a major cleaning and restoration in 1932 and has been subject to restoration at least four times. The original is in poor condition, having suffered substantial damage to both frame and surface. The painting was donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1893 by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lee Higginson following their New York auction purchase in 1889. The museum held an exhibition in 1989 about the work titled "Art in Context: Rogier van der Weyden's Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin".
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Paintings of Saint Luke painting the Virgin.|
- Gardner and Kleiner, 406
- Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin, Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Accessed June 6, 2011.
- Hornik and Parsons, 16–17
- Ishikawa, 54
- Campbell, 54
- Eisler, Colin Tobias (1961). New England Museums. Brussels: Centre National de Recherches Primitifs. pp. 73–74. Accessed via Questia.
- Borchert, 213
- Hand et al., 265
- See Ishikawa for an explanation of van der Weyden's approach to underdrawing.
- Ishikawa—but see the Provenance section of the Boston museum's page for more current information.
- Borchert, Till-Holger (2011). "Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin". In: Van Eyck to Dürer. London: Thames & Hudson, 2011. 978-0-500-23883-7
- Campbell, Lorne (2004). Van der Weyden. London: Chaucer Press. ISBN 1-904449-24-7
- Gardner, Helen and Kleiner, Fred S. (2009). Gardner's Art Through the Ages: the Western Perspective, vol. 2. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-0-495-57364-7.
- Hand, John Oliver; Metzger, Catherine; Spronk, Ron; National Gallery of Art (U.S.), Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Belgium) (2006). Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-12155-1.
- Hornik, Heidi J.; Parsons, Mikeal Carl (2003). Illuminating Luke: The Infancy Narrative in Italian Renaissance Painting. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-56338-405-9.
- Ishikawa, Chiyo (1990). "Rogier van der Weyden's 'Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin' Reexamined". Journal of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Vol. 2, pp. 49–64
- Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston