St Luke the artist – 19 October 2020

St Luke is commemorated as an evangelist and physician. He is also remembered as an artist, as here, drawing a picture of the Virgin and her child. The picture is rich in symbolism. To the right is Luke’s private room, where a book is on a desk (his gospel?) and beneath there is an ox (his symbol). The Virgin feeds her child, who is naked on her knee, seated on a throne whose arms show carvings of Adam and Eve. Christ and Mary, the new Adam and Eve, will overcome the curse and each play their part in redeeming human kind. Mary is seated in an enclosed garden, which signifies her purity. Beyond there is a landscape with two figures (Anna and Joachim?) standing on a bridge, looking out into a Netherlandish scene.


The painting is by Rogier van der Weyden (1435-40), a Netherlandish artist. St Luke here is a self portrait of the artist. He is engaged with drawing by silver point (on white paper) – a very difficult medium in which to work. There is a silverpoint by van der Weyden in Berlin which is very similar to the drawing here. Weyden was a devout Catholic, influenced by the mystical texts of Hildegard of Bingen and Mechthild of Magdeburg, who thought that contemplating religious images could lead to ecstasy. This painting is not an illustration, but a sermon.


When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

Luke 2:39-40


His gospel is itself a living creature
A ground and glory round the throne of God,
Where earth and heaven breathe through human nature
And One upon the throne sees it is good.
Luke is the living pillar of our healing,
A lowly ox, the servant of the four,
We turn his page to find his face revealing
The wonder, and the welcome of the poor.
He breathes good news to all who bear a burden
Good news to all who turn and try again,
The meek rejoice and prodigals find pardon,
A lost thief reaches paradise through pain,
The voiceless find their voice in every word
And, with Our Lady, magnify Our Lord.

Malcolm Guite