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Luke, Saint

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One of the *Four Evangelists, Luke is credited with having authored the Gospel of Luke (c.70–90) as well as the book of Acts. A disciple of Saint *Paul, he accompanied Paul on several missionary journeys, tradition ally became a leader of the Christian church in Greece, and died peacefully at the age of 84 (probably not crucified as a martyr with Saint *Andrew although such is recounted in legends).


Like the other Gospel writers, Luke features frequently throughout medieval art as an *author; he is often accompanied or represented by his animal symbol, the ox, chosen because his Gospel begins with a mention of the priestly duties (e.g., including sacrifice) of *Zacharias.Paul refers to a Luke as “the blessed physician” in his Epistle to the Colossians ,hence Saint Luke may occasionally be shown in art with the attributes of a medical doctor.


The tradition that Luke painted a portrait of the *Madonna and Child probably originated in Byzantium in the sixth century and, during the *Iconoclastic Controversy, was frequently cited by authors in defense of visual imagery. Although there is no biblical mention of Luke’s artistic skills, it has been pointed out that his sensitive and detailed account of the *Nativity may suggest his having met and conversed with the Virgin *Mary in Jerusalem before composing his Gospel (as is also specified in the * Golden Legend , which additionally identifies him as one of the disciples on the *Road to Emmaus). The image of Saint Luke painting (or drawing) the Virgin and Child becomes frequent in western art of the later medieval period, especially in Books of Hours as well as on altarpieces. The popularity of this image in the later Middle Ages is also reflective of the development of independent guilds for painters and their choice of Saint Luke as patron. The scene is frequently shown as taking place in an interior setting; Luke (often bearded) will be shown seated or kneeling at his desk or easel at work painting, while Mary stands or sits before him holding the infant Jesus.

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