Saint Luke, The Patron Saint of the Worshipful Company of Painters, otherwise Painter-Stainers, by Walter Hayward Pitman


[Saint Luke, The Patron Saint of the Worshipful Company of Painters, otherwise Painter-Stainers, by Walter Hayward Pitman]

Dedicated by Special Permission to the Master, Wardens, and Court of Assistants of the Worshipful Company of Painters, otherwise Painter-Stainers.

In presenting An Account of the Life and Works of Saint Luke to by brother Liverymen of the Painter-Stainer’s Company, I desire to ask their kind forbearance for venturing to undertake such a task. I can claim to possess no special qualifications for it; the subject, indeed, is one that does not permit of original information, but only of research and enquiry. Saint Luke being the patron saint of the Company, personally I was desirous of being acquainted with reasons which would justify us in claiming for our profession the high honour of Saint Luke’s attachment, and also of learning some details concerning those pictures which are claimed as his handiwork. Believing that the results of an investigation would also be a matter of interest to the members of the Company generally, I have pleasure in asking their perusal of the following pages. Though I have not been able to discover any novel facts, the compilation of this monograph in leisure, has enabled me amply to verify the words of Sir Frederick Leighton (P.R.A. and a Liveryman of our Company) when proposing at a recent Royal Academy Banquet, “The Interests of Science and of Literature.” He said,

“In letters, no province, perhaps, exercises wider fascination than that of biography. Men turn ever with unslaked curiosity to the inspiring record of the lives of those who have been prominent among their fellows.”

I am anxious to express my obligations and sincere acknowledgments to

  • Sir Edward Thornton, K.C.B., late Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador to the Sublime Porte
  • Sir F W Burton, National Gallery
  • The Rev Canon Curtis, Constantinople
  • The Rev Sabine Baring-Gould, M.A.
  • Charles Browne, Esq., M.A., Lincoln’s Inn
  • Athelstan Riley, Esq., M.A., F.R.G.S.
  • Charles Welch, Esq., The Library, Guildhall.
  • George C. Williamson, Esq., F. R. Hist. Soc., etc.,

and Others, who have most kindly mentioned works of reference, and have suggested various sources of information.

– Walter Hayward Pitman, Easter, 1889

Saint Luke

The name of Saint Luke is only three times mentioned in the New Testament –

  • Colossians 4:14
  • 2nd Timothy 4:11
  • Philemon 24

He must not be confounded with Lucius (Romans 16:21), whom Saint Paul the Apostle calls his kinsman.

Saint Luke is recognized and accepted as an Evangelist, a Physician, and a Painter. His “praise is in the Gospel throughout all the churches.” (2nd Corinthians 8:18) He is renowned in Art – the handmaid of Religion. Holy Scripture, to which one naturally turns for information, tells us of his works as an evangelist – a little of his position as a physician – but nothing of his capability as a painter. Legend and tradition, nevertheless, largely supply and fill up details – especially as to the last-mentioned talent. It is unfortunate that many of the statements made in the patristic literature are at variance with one another, and with earlier documents, etc., thus rendering them confusing and often greatly conflicting. Combining, however, all sources of information, it is possible to learn something of the life and work of Saint Luke, to whom the Church, and indeed all men, owe so great a debt of gratitude.

On the testimony of Eusebius and Saint Jerome, Saint Luke was born in Antioch, the metropolis of Syria. Its delightful situation, its beautiful climate, its extent, its population and its commerce, rendered it famous; it was not less celebrated for its learning and wisdom. It is interesting to remember that at Antioch men were first called “Christians.” Saint Luke was most probably not of Jewish parentage; Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians, separates the names of his fellow labourers who are “of the circumcision” from the names of others who follow. Saint Luke is among these latter. (Colossians 4:14)

Saint Jerome mentions that Saint Luke was more conversant with Greek than Hebrew, and this also may lead to the inference that he was a Gentile. His family or condition of life cannot be exactly stated. From his name Luca (which is a contraction of Lucanus, and the full form appears in some early manuscripts), one may gather that he was Italian (Lucanian) descent.

Of his early days and training we have no record, though it appears clear that he was equipped with what we should now call a “liberal education,” and that he was acquainted with the best Greek classical authors. His writing are in the purest Greek, and are evidence of his finished erudition. He was essentially a man of letters and skilled in composition.

Saint Luke, in his writings, describes in detail Jewish rules, feasts, fasts, and the like. This has led to the idea that he (being a Gentile as has been already mentioned) was first of all converted to Judaism.

Saint Epiphanius makes Saint Luke to have been a disciple of our Lord – one of the seventy. The portion of Holy Scripture selected to the Gospels on Saint Luke’s day, Luke 10:1, tends to confirm this, and he alone makes special mention of their mission. It is also asserted that he was one of the two who journeyed to Emmaus with the Risen Saviour. Certain it is that he alone records the particulars of that wonderful journey, when the hearts of the two companions “burned” while He talked with them by the way. (Luke 24:32) These suggestions are, however, inconsistent, and at variance with Tertullian and the Muratorian fragment, and are only conjectural, for we have Saint Luke’s own testimony, in the preface to his Gospel, that he wrote from information conveyed to him by those who “from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word.” (Luke 1:2) Saint Luke therefore wrote not from his own observation (except say from the early days of the Church), and thus we may fairly conclude that he, like Saint Mark, became a Christian only after our Lord’s Ascension into Heaven. The Muratorian fragment says distinctly that Saint Luke did not see the Lord in the flesh. Some ascribe to Saint Paul the credit of Saint Luke’s conversion, and fix the place of it at Antioch; but others consider this improbable since Saint Paul nowhere calls him the “son”, as he frequently does his converts.

We may well be content to render to God all Praise for giving to the Church such a faithful and diligent “son” as Saint Luke proved himself to be.


Saint Paul speaks of Saint Luke as the “beloved physician.” (Colossians 4:14) That he was taught the science of medicine does not support the inference that he was of high birth or fortune since the practice and science of medicine in Saint Luke’s day was often managed by slaves who were educated and trained in its mysteries. Great personages had their slaves instructed in medicine; hence some have conceived that Saint Luke was of humble birth, and that possibly he had lived with some noble family in the capacity of physician until he obtained his freedom. We have evidence of his medical knowledge by his correct use of medical terms, and because he describes diseases as only a physician world, e.g., when mentioning in his Gospel the woman having an issue of blood (Luke 8:43), and in the Acts of the apostles the cure of the father of Publius at Melita (Acts 28:8).

The language employed in the latter example is distinctly descriptive, if not technical. Saint Jerome tells us that Saint Luke was very imminent in his profession as a physician. Eminence is not to be obtained in a day; thus, it may have been that Saint Luke followed his calling all his life, exercising it in whatever place he may have happened to be at the time. A curious and interesting coincidence is that when Saint Luke is first mentioned as being in company with Saint Paul, it is immediately after a sojourn of the latter in Galatia (Acts 16:6,10), due to severe bodily sickness (Galatians 4:13). Indeed, this illness of Saint Paul may have necessitated the calling in or medical skill, and may thus have been the cause of their first meeting.

It has also been surmised that Saint Luke was a medical attendant on board one of the ancient vessels; they were not rapid in their movements, and some, not infrequently, were very large, thus requiring a considerable staff, and, as a consequence, probably “carrying a surgeon,” as we now say. The ship “of Alexandria,” in which the journey to Rome was made, is supposed to have been some 1200 tons burden. Saint Luke certainly displays, in the Acts of the Apostles, considerable knowledge of nautical matters, and it may have been acquired in circumstances such as we have hinted. Or again, Philippi and Troas, we know, were his headquarters for some time. His constant journeys, to and fro, between these places would make him well acquainted with the points of the coast en route, and, probably, being a man of keen perception and interest, with navigation generally. His familiarity with nautical phraseology and idioms is specially shown in his descriptions of Saint Paul’s shipwreck and voyage to Rome (Acts 17). He gives, as it were, the log-book: “We sailed under Cyprus because the winds were contrary.” As it was then autumn, and violent northwest windows prevailing in the Archipelago, this course was obligatory; they could not take the open sea, outside the island, as the vessel having Saint Paul on board was able to do in the voyage from Miletus to Tyre. “Sailing was not dangerous.” Navigation amongst the ancients ceased from October to March, owning to the prevalence of storms. The dark and rainy weather his the sun and stars, which were, before the invention of the compass, the mariner’s only guide. Saint Luke describes the coast and its dangers: the soft “south wind”; what was done to preserve the ship; the soundings that were repeatedly made, and so on. All this affords irresistible proof of his cognizance of navigation.


Acts 16:8,10,11 give us the first gleam of information respecting Saint Luke’s evangelistic work. The change of the pronoun from the third person (verse 8.) to the first person (verses 10, 11), which here occurs, permits the belief that the writer of the Acts of the Apostles (and he, it is generally accepted, we Saint Luke) became Saint Paul’s companion in the latter’s journeyings. When Saint Paul sailed from Troas in 51, soon afterwards Saint Barnabas left him, Saint Luke accompanied the former into Macedonia, travelling with him to Philippi, the chief city of that part. Philippi is remarkable in that the Gospel was preached there by an Apostle for the first time within the continent of Europe. Saint Luke appears to have been left behind at Philippi, and Saint Paul resumed his journey without him. Before he was able again to visit Philippi, seven years elapsed. During this period Saint Luke, it is conjectured, followed his calling as a physician and also diligently worked as a “physician of the soul,” delivering his testimony to the truth of the Resurrection, preaching the Gospel message in the surrounding country, cultivating and nurturing the “good seed” sown by the Apostle, and stimulating the faith and hope of the converts. About the year 56, Saint Luke, “the brother whose praise is in the Gospel throughout all the churches,” (2nd Corinthians 8:18) accompanied Titus, Bishop of Crete, to Corinth. Could Saint Paul give a greater commendation, or a more honourable introduction that the words, “the brother whose praise is in the Gospel throughout the churches” would convey? We may be sure that Saint Luke was not unworthy of them.

Saint Paul and Saint Luke departed from Philippi together in 58, it being the former’s third missionary journey. Henceforward the two were inseparable. Passing through Troas, Assos, Mitylene, Chios, Samos, and Trogyllium, in due course, they arrived in Miletus, the old capital of Ionia. Here they tarried in order that Saint Paul might meet the Elders from Ephesus, which was about 28 miles to the north. From Miletus Saint Paul and his companions sailed, by way of Cos and Rhodes, to Patara, where Apollo was worshipped as his sister Diana was at Ephesus. At Patara the travellers, changing ship (Acts 21:2), crossed the open sea, straight for Tyre, “discovering Cyprus” on the left hand. This is really a nautical expression signifying to see land, to being land to view, just as sailors in our day say “making” land.

At Tyre, Saint Paul was warned by the word of Prophecy of his approaching dangers and trials; however, he feared nothing, but persisted in continuing his journey to Jerusalem. Saint Luke, his faithful fellow-labourer, also remained earnest and steadfast in his devotion. They journeyed together from Tyre to Ptolemais. From this point the journey was no double made by land, and the travellers (Saint Luke and Saint Paul) duly arrived in Caesarea. Here the house of Philip, the Deacon Evangelist, afforded a hospitable welcome; after abiding with his family for some days, they continued their journey and arrived at Jerusalem in good time for the Feast.

In Jerusalem, Saint Paul had several “hair-breadth” escapes from serious and menacing dangers. He was made a prisoner, and after much enquiry, was sent to Caesarea to be adjudged by Felix, the Governor. Twice was Saint Paul brought before Felix, and each time was he remanded. He remained a prisoner for two years. Saint Luke continued with him as his constant attendant and help, during all this trying and depressing period. It would seem that Saint Luke’s highest ambition was to share with the great Apostle to the Gentiles all the fatigues and perils to which the latter was subjected. Saint Luke was possibly of some medical assistance to him, for it is not improbable that Saint Paul’s health was somewhat impaired by his confinement.

Felix’s term of office having expired, Festuc succeeded to his rank. Saint Paul was arraigned before him, as well. After bearing a great testimony to the Truth, Saint Paul finally appealed to Caesar and claimed his rights as a Roman citizen. From Caesarea, therefore, Saint Paul was sent with other state prisoners in proper care and custody to Rome (Acts 27:1). Saint Luke was still his companion, for he says, “And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy,” etc. He participated in all the anxious and hazardous events of that journey; he endured and survived the terrible shipwreck at Melia. As he writes, “And so it came to pass that they escaped all safe to land.” (Acts 27:44)

After many other perils and deprivations, the company arrived in Rome. Here Saint Paul was a prisoner for two years. His confinement was imperative and close; though he was permitted to live in a house that he hired for the purpose, his life was, it may be said, dependent on a word from the Emperor. It is generally agreed that Saint Paul was acquitted at the termination of this time, though no information is vouchsafed in the Acts of the Apostles, and that he afterwards resumed his labours in the Gospel. Saint Luke did not forsake the Apostle on his release but continued diligent in his service during his subsequent visitations of the churches in Crete, Colosse, Ephesus, Corinth, etc. Saint Paul was afterwards (we know now how, where or even when) again arrested and imprisoned at Rome. This was more severe probably than the former imprisonment, though with him he had some three or four companions as well as his ever-zealous adherent, Saint Luke. How grieved he must have been by the departure and loss of these brethren, and the more especially at the cause of their falling away! Writing at this time to Timothy, he says “For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed to Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia; only Luke is with me.” Saint Luke alone was constant at all times and in every place through his master’s afflictions. He was to him, indeed, “faithful unto death.”

We may here mention that there is a tradition which asserts that Saint Paul, before his second imprisonment, travelled into Spain and even as far west as Britain. If this be corrected, Saint Luke, being his companion, must also have visited the island. It is noteworthy that when Saint Augustine of Canterbury came to evangelize and convert the inhabitants of Saxon England, he found on his arrival that already the name of Christ was known, and that men acknowledged and worshipped the only true God. It may be that Saint Luke was an instrument in bringing this result.


It is generally accepted that Saint Luke was the author of the Gospel which bears his name, and also of the Acts of the Apostles. Some suppose these two books are but two parts of one volume. (Even those who assign the greater part of the Actsto a much later date think that the sections referring to the missionary journeys of Saint Paul may be extracts from an original diary of a companion of Saint Paul, and that his companion may have been Saint Luke. Luke was at considerable pains to obtain the best possible information; doubtless from those person who were present at, and interested in, those scenes which are recorded. Saint Luke, in the course of his travels with Saint Paul, would come into contact here and there with several who could materially assist him in this respect. As regards the Gospel, we may be sure the Blessed Virgin was a willing informant as to many of the important details connected with the Annunciation, with the Mystery of the Incarnation, and the subsequent events and occurrences recorded. Most probably, Saint Paul was his informant as to the numerous incidents narrated in the Acts of the Apostles, especially in the opening chapters, concerning the subjects matter of which no one could be more cognizant or better acquainted. It is well, nevertheless, that we do not forget that it was under the direction and influence of the Holy Ghost that Saint Luke’s writing were accomplished, and without. His assistance, without His living Spirit, nothing was written. For want of this guidance by the Holy Spirit, the compositions of the “many” authors to whom Saint Luke refers in his preface (Luke 1:1) were failures. The Gospel according to Saint Luke was most probably written when he was with the Apostle Paul in the latter’s two years’ imprisonment at Caesarea, though it was not published till at least 63 or 64 AD. The Gospels of Saint Matthew and Saint Mark had already been written, and Saint Luke appears anxious to supply some things which they omitted to narrate. Authorities, however, differ as to this question of date. Dr E A Abbott, after dealing very minutely with the point, states as a clear inference that Saint Luke compiled his Gospel certainly after 70, and actually about the year 80 at the earliest.

A French writer has described Saint Luke’s Gospel as the most beautiful book that has ever been written, thus endorsing, if it were necessary, the opinion of the late Charles Dickens concerning the New Testament as a while. He declared it to be the best book that ever was, or will be, known in the world. Saint Luke portrays Christ specially as the Universal Saviour – the Saviour not of a chosen people only, but of all men – the Light to lighten the Gentiles, as well as the Glory of His people Israel. To Saint Luke’s Gospel we owe the record of many most gracious acts performed, and words of the deepest intent spoken, by our Blessed Lord. When uniting from day to day, and from week to week, with the Church in her services of prayer and thanksgiving, we are perhaps unmindful of the fact that it is from Saint Luke’s Gospel we cull the Benedictus, the Magnificat anima mea, the Gloria in Excelsis, and the name Nunc Dimittis. Keble, in the Christian year, apostrophizing Saint Luke, says

Thou hast an ear for angels’ songs,
A breath the Gospel trump to fill,
And taught by thee the Church prolongs
Her hymns of high thanksgiving still.

Saint Luke alone tell us of the birth of Saint John the Baptist – how the glad tidings of the birth of Christ were announced to the humble shepherds in the fields – of his Presentation in the Temple – of the early testimony of Simeon and Anna concerning him – and of His audience, when twelve years old, with the doctors. Again, it is from Saint Luke’s Gospel that we learn the practical lessons enforced by the Good Samaritan, by Dives and Lazarus, the Pharisee and the Publican, and last, though not least, by the record portraying the Prodigal Son.

How many a soul with guilt oppressed
Has learned to hear the joyful found
In that sweet tale of sin confessed,
The Father’s love, the lost and found!

The tenderness and mercy of Jesus is indicated in the following incidents, which Saint Luke alone records, viz –

  • The raising to life of the son of the Widow of Nain.
  • The cure of the women with the issue of blood.
  • The cleansing of the ten lepers.
  • The promise to the penitent thief: “To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”

We may here refer to Mrs Jameson’s delightful work, Legends of the Madonna. Referring to the tradition that Saint Luke was a painter, she reminds us how Saint Luke was early regarded as the great authority with respect to the few Scriptural particulars relating to the life and character of the Virgin Mary. In this figurative sense he may be said to have painted that portrait of her which has since been received as the perfect type of womanhood. saint Luke’s Gospel displays her character, her true and trustful humility at the time of the Annunciation, her decision and prudence in visiting her elder relative – Elizabeth. It also gives proof of her intellectual power in the unequalled Magnificat of her truly maternal devotion to her Son throughout His ministry on earth, as well as the fortitude and faith with which she stood by Him when dying on the Cross.

Longfellow, in his Golden Legend, also praises the Blessed Virgin as an

Example of all womanhood,
So mild, so merciful, so strong, so good,
So patient, peaceful, loyal, loving, pure.

It was about the year 73 when Saint Luke completed the writing of the Acts of the Apostles, and this period was coincident with the release of Saint Paul from imprisonment in Rome. Ancient writings and monuments belonging to the Church of Santa Maria in Via Lata in that city inform us that this church was erected upon the spot where Saint Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles. They contain an authentic statement of the “wonderful works of God” in planting and developing His Church, of the miracles by which He confirmed His purpose in her, and “of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach,” concluding with the statement of the martyrdom of the great Apostle to the Gentiles. Very valuable indeed to the Church is this inspired record.


After the martyrdom of Saint Paul the doings of Saint Luke, his beloved companion, are most obscure. Saint Epiphanius says he preached in Italy, Gaul, Dalmatia, and Macedon. Saint Gregory of Nazianzus makes Achaia the theatre of his preaching, while Saint Oecumenius says Africa, and a later legend mentions Enns, in Austria.

In an addition to the Treatise of Eminent Men by Saint Jerome, we read that Saint Luke never married. Saint Hippolytus says Saint Luke was crucified at Eloea, in the Peloponnesus, near Achaia. Saint Gregory of Nazianzus assures us that he went to God by martyrdom. Saint Nicephorus specifies that he was hanged on an olive tree. The African Martyrology of the fifth century gives him the title of Evangelist and Martyr. Gaudentius, Bishop of Brescia in the fifth century, speaks of Saint Luke as a martyr, and says that he suffered at Patra, in Achaia, and in company with, it is supposed, Saint Andrew. Elias of Crete, in the eighth century, denies that Saint Luke was a martyr. Elsewhere it is stated, or implied, that he died an ordinary death, either in Bithynia, or at Thebes, in Boeotia: “Thebes primum fepultae”. The Venerable Bede and others say that “he suffered much for the faith, and died very old in Bithynia”; of course this does not permit the inference that he shed his blood. The Greek traditions represent him as dying in peace, and his death was thus figured on the ancient doors of San Paolo at Rome. Saint Luke, at the time of his death, was about eighty-four years of age.

By order of the Emperor Constantine, the body of Saint Luke was translated in 357 from Patra to Constantinople, and deposited in the Church of the Apostles in that city, along with the bodies of Saint Andrew and Saint Timothy. On this occasion some distribution of relics of Saint Luke was made. This magnificent Church of the Apostles was erected by Constantine the Great, whose body, in a chest of gold, was deposited in the porch. The burial-place of Saint Luke, however, would seem to have been soon forgotten, for when excavations for some new foundations were made, by order of Justinian, the workmen discovered three coffins or chests of wood, wherein, as the inscriptions proved, the bodies of Saints Luke, Andrew, and Timothy were interred. Subsequent tradition asserts that the remains were afterwards conveyed to Italy. More than one whole body of Saint Luke was stated to exist: e.g., one in the Minorite Monastery of Saint Job at Venice, and another in the Benedictine Church of Saint Giustina at Padua. In the fifteenth century Pope Pius II commanded Cardinal Bessarion to decide in a violent controversy between these two monasteries, for each claimed to possess the perfect relics of the Evangelist.

Baronius mentions that the head of Saint Luke was brought by Saint Gregory from Constantinople to Rome, and laid in the Church of his Monastery of Saint Andrew. Other “relics” are stated to exist, and may be enumerated as follows –

at Saint Peter’s, Rome
the head
at Valence
part of the head
at Liessy, in Hainault
part of the head
the Royal Chapel at Barcelona, Spain
an arm
at Saint Epina
another arm
at Prajano, near Naples, in Saint Luke’s Church
an arm and a knee
at the great Lavra on Mount Athos
part of a hand
at Valentia (exhibited on Easter Monday)
two fingers of the left hand
at Mechlin
a tooth
at Saint Oviedo, in Austria, also at Tournai, etc.
some bones

Requiescat in Pace

Saint Luke’s day

The martyrologies and calendars, for the most part, agree in fixing Saint Luke’s festival on 18 October, though other days are indicated – 13 October, 21 September, 26 September, and 27 November. A doubt is expressed whether October 18 should be regarded as the anniversary of his birth – or of the translation of his remains to Constantinople. The Roman Martyrology, under the day 18 October, states, “Natalis beati Lucae Evangelistae, qui multa passus pro Christi nomine Spiritu Sancto plenus obiit in Bithynia, cujus ossa Constantinoplum translata sunt et inde Patavium delata.” The same Martyrology commemorates the translation of his relics to Constantinople on 9 May. Many saints’ days have been appropriated and fixed with reference to the anniversary of the first consecration of a church made in their honour. This is the case with Michaelmas Day. Michael the Archangel’s day is really 8 May. September 29 possesses its distinctive name simply because it is the anniversary of the day on which a church was ever first dedicated to Michael. The church, which boasts this privilege, was built on Mount Gargano in Apulia, Italy, and was formally consecrated on 29 September, which day has since been recognized as the festival, and is much better known than 8 May.


The ox or calf – one of the four “living creatures” mentioned in that great vision of the Prophet Ezekiel – and also one of the four living “beasts” mentioned in the Book of the Revelations, has ever been appropriated in Christian Art to Saint Luke. Various are the surmises as to the first cause of this appropriation; there is, however, some consensus of opinion. The ox is indicative of patience, of non-obtrusion, and of sacrifice. Possibly the emblem of the ox was applicable to Saint Luke because, in his Gospel, he mainly portrays those things which relate to Christ’s priestly office; he exhibits His patient, personal endurance, His humility, and non-complaining sufferings – culminating in the all-sufficient sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross for us men and for our salvation.

Devotional figures of Saint Luke in his character of Evangelist generally represent him with his Gospel and with the attendant ox, winged or unwinged. The Greek painters represent him as a young man with crisped hair and a little beard, holding in one hand the portrait of the Blessed Virgin, and in the other his Gospel. In the Academy of Saint Luke in Rome is a painting ascribed to Raphael; Saint Luke is kneeling on a footstool before an easel, and in this attitude is painting a portrait of the Virgin, who appears before him, with the infant Jesus in her arms, out of heaven and sustained by clouds. In the Munich Gallery is a painting accredited as the work of Van Eyck; the Virgin is seated under a rich Gothic canopy, and holds in her lap the Child Jesus. Saint Luke, kneeling on one knee, is painting her “vera icon”. In the Vienna Gallery are pictures embodying the same idea. Carlo Maratti represents Saint Luke as presenting to the Virgin the portrait he has painted of her. In an engraving by Lucas V Leyden, Saint Luke is seated on the back of the ox in the act of writing. He wears a hood like an old professor; the book rests against the horns of the animal, the inkstand depends from the bough of a tree. In the west window of the Court Room at Painters’ Hall, is a little panel of stained glass representing Saint Luke; while in the Hall itself, in the northeast angel, is a large oil painting which shows him engaged in writing.


So far we have sketched the career and work of Saint Luke as an Evangelist and a Physician; the next point for consideration is his repute as a Painter. That he was thus skilful and proficient rests almost entirely on tradition.

These traditional accounts obtained such currency and force that with the development of art, Saint Luke had come to be regarded as a patron saint of painters. Being thus esteemed, it seems only natural that academies of art, on their foundation, should be placed under his immediate and particular protection, and that their chapels mould be dedicated in honour of his name; over the altars therein he has been represented as engaged in the pious avocation of painting portraits of the Blessed Virgin. The same belief, without doubt, caused Saint Luke to be selected as the Patron Saint of the Worshipful Company of Painters, otherwise Painter-Stainers. When this selection took place, or even when the Company itself was originally founded, it is impossible to say. The Charter granted to the Company by King James II recites, “The art and mystery of Paynters is an ancient art or mystery, and had time out of mind been an ancient Company and Fellowship in the City of London.” The Guilds, in most early days, were institutions of local self-help; they bound all classes together in care for the needy, and for objects of common welfare, but not necessarily for trading purposes. They always inculcated the observance and practice of Religion, Justice, and Morality.

Their quasi-religious character is evident from the mode of their formation, in the choice of a patron saint, by the appointment of chaplains, and in the attendance of the members at the worship of the Church before the feasts and other business. As all Liverymen of the Painter-Stainers’ Company know, it is on Saint Luke’s Day that they annually meet, according to “ancient custom” at the hall in Little Trinity Lane, and proceed thence to Divine service at the parish church, afterwards returning to the hall for the annual election of Master and other officers, and for the subsequent “feast.”

This selection of Saint Luke as the patron saint of the Company is, we think, a happy one, quite apart from the tradition which represents him as a painter. We have already seen that unremitting attention to, and faithful care of, Saint Paul, even in adverse circumstances, was one of his chief characteristics. When in most sore straits, at the mercy of others, and unable to protect himself, Saint Luke was his mainstay, being ever at his side, whether in perils on land, or on the seas. Towards the end of his life all others deserted him. His cup of trial and of sorrow would indeed have overflown if he had been neglected or forsaken by Saint Luke, as he was by his fellows. The Painters’ Company is distinguished by a similar characteristic. Though poor in its corporate capacity, it is renowned for its benevolence, its liberality and charity – giving annual pensions, and the like, to old decayed and lame painters, also to those who are blind, and this without distinction of sex or trade. In this unobtrusive path the Company follows the bright example of its patron saint, not only being ever mindful of and tending to the wants of others – the poor, the lame, and the blind – but also it affords this monetary help to them continually and unceasingly. We have some knowledge of the blessing and comfort which has been brought to many a distant home by the pensions granted by the Company.

It has been well said that tradition is “Poetic, patriotic, and religious: it is anything but historical or critical” This is very true in reference to the tradition that Saint Luke was a painter. As we have already seen, Saint Luke was well educated and versed in classical knowledge. He was brought up in a great centre of the then civilized world where the arts were not uncultivated. Is it too improbable to suggest that Saint Luke may also have received some instruction, and have attained some proficiency, in the art of Painting? We know that the origin of the art was not by any means contemporaneous with the advent of Christianity, though the degree of excellence then attained was but the efforts of an art undeveloped and in its infancy – if we may judge, for instance, from the examples in the dark shadows of the catacombs, or from such of the antique paintings as have come down to us in the decoration of Assyrian, Egyptian, and Pompeian edifices.

Another negative argument in favour of the tradition should be mentioned. We know that painting and all other imitation of the human form was strictly forbidden among the Jews, and even artists themselves have been excluded from Jewish provinces. We have already seen that Saint Luke was most probably a Gentile; and if this contention be correct, then there is something more than consistency in claiming him as a Painter, especially at a time when the arts were in a high and flourishing state.

Saint Augustine says expressly that there existed in his time no authentic portrait of the Virgin. Such a statement as this rather proves to our mind that there were disputes concerning rival portraits. The point of discussion may have been the query whether or not Saint Luke was the author of any or all of them, though we may infer from Saint Augustine’s words that their claim for authenticity could not, in his opinion, be substantiated. Again, in early Christian days sculpture, having been so much identified with idolatry and idolatrous practices, was, for some centuries at least, quite unused and discarded by the Church. Afterwards painting obtained and occupied a foremost position. As the geographical limits of the Church expanded, the inherent necessity arose for some mode of keeping the leading doctrines of the Church more continually and prominently before the converts to the New Faith than could possibly be done by mere oral or individual instruction. Painting afforded a means, and many and many examples of this use of it may be found in the Catacombs of Rome. The art of painting thus became, as it were, the coadjutor of the Church in her teaching. In connection with this point there exists a legend. Saint Luke’s artistic powers, so it is said, were of much advantage to him in propagating his work as an Evangelist. He carried with him everywhere two portraits – his own handiwork. One depicted our Saviour, and the other the Blessed Virgin. By the aid of them he converted many of the heathen; not only did they perform great miracles, but all who looked at those bright and benign faces – which possessed a striking resemblance to each others – were stirred to admiration and devotion. The sense of sight being as important as the sense of hearing, it would have formed a valuable adjunct to Saint Luke’s teaching and preaching, if he were able to produce to his hearers a representation depicting those persons of whom he had been speaking.

The Greek section of the Church accepts the tradition without hesitation. Side by side with this fact it is worthy of note that she only recognises and permits those paintings which are believed to be of holy or miraculous origin, rejecting all known to be the products of human Art. This early strictness is not now so generally observed, for the works of human hands have been introduced, but only so far as they are faithful imitations of the ancient models; they are required to be authenticated and exact copies. Paintings of the Virgin Mary copied from the “original by Saint Luke,” which tradition declares to be genuine, are admitted as orthodox objects of adoration. Mr Athelstan Riley, in his exceedingly interesting and descriptive work, Athos mentions a picture by Saint Luke in the Protaton, the chief Church of Caryes. The monks, who accompanied him on the occasion of his visit, showed the greatest reverence to the picture by “innumerable prostrations. It had an immense number of candles before it, and a canopy like an umbrella over it.” The Greek Church is immobile in her faith; she knows no deviation from, and permits no development of, her doctrine. May not the same absolute steadfastness be observable in this particular tradition that Saint Luke was a painter? May it not be that the legends narrated in reference to the origin and miraculous powers of the older Greek pictures have been handed down from the earliest centuries untouched and unsullied, so that to-day they are identical with those common and in repute in the days when the Empress Helena took precautions for the preservation of such works. Certain it is that the Greek is the most ancient section of the Church. The traditions and doctrines taught by her, we would by no means ruthlessly cast aside, or treat as valueless her teaching in this respect. By modern Greeks and Ruffians, the picture per se is held in great reverence. At the street corners, in every home, in every shop, even on the steamboats, is the “picture” to be seen with candles or lamps burning before it.

Some writers of eminence do not accept the tradition. As for example, the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould (and probably we have now living no greater authority on cognate subjects) feels considerable doubt in endorsing the statement that Saint Luke was a painter. However, even if such doubts could be strengthened by further investigation or research, the fact abides that there are now extant pictures, in various parts of the world, claimed to be his handiwork; that these are few in number increases to our mind the probability of their authenticity.

The existence of the tradition in Western Europe cannot be traced back to a very early century. It possibly came in after the First Crusade, and was accepted at that period along with many other Oriental traditions then imported. If it had been of earlier origin, or had existed prior to the Iconoclastic controversy, it would doubtless have been an important factor and have been of much argumentative value in those quarrels, which raged so fiercely during the eighth and ninth centuries. Some think that the tradition may have originated in the real existence of a Greek painter named Luca: a saint, too, he may have been, for the Greeks have a whole calendar of canonized artists, painters, poets, and musicians. This Greek San Luca may have been a painter of those Madonnas imported into the West by merchants and pilgrims; and the West, knowing but one Saint Luke, would easily confound the painter and the Evangelist. The first reliable authorities are the Menalogium of Basil the Younger, (published in 980?), and Symeon Metaphrastes, who also belongs to the tenth century. The various authors quoted by F. Gretzer in his dissertation on this subject speak much of Saint Luke excelling in the art of painting, and of his leaving many pictures of Christ and of the Blessed Virgin. These statements find preconfirmation just after the Council of Ephesus (431). Theodorus Lector, who lived in 518, records that the Empress Eudocia sent from Jerusalem to her sister-in-law, Pulcheria, at Constantinople, a picture of the Blessed Virgin, painted by Saint Luke. Pulcheria placed it in the church of Hodegorum, which she built in Constantinople. It was at that time regarded as of very high antiquity, and supposed to have been painted from the life; it was held in the greatest veneration; its ultimate fate is unfortunately not known with certainty. Some say it is identical with the picture now held in high honour in the Chapel of the Madonna in Saint Mark’s, Venice, Italy. Further, a very ancient inscription was found in a vault near the Church of Santa Maria in Via Lata in Rome, in which it is said of a Picture of the Blessed Virgin discovered there, “Una ex VII a Luca depictis.” In this same Church one is still shown a little Chapel in which, “as it hath been handed down from the first ages,” Saint Luke the Evangelist “wrote, and painted the effigy of the Virgin-Mother of God.” The accuracy of the tradition was not disputed or questioned until 1776. In that year D. M. Manni published in Florence his treatise “Dell’ Errore che persiste di attribuirsi le Pitture al Santo Evangelista” and thus he has the distinction (if it be one) of being the first to query Saint Luke’s claim to be regarded as a painter.

The argument may be summarized. We are shown a picture by loving and reverential hands; its great age is apparent; its history is delineated by a faithful heart. “It is the work of Saint Luke the Evangelist.” This is the statement. We may, of course, deny the assertion of fact, if we wish, but it is almost impossible to prove its inaccuracy. Instead, therefore, of doubting or questioning, we prefer to accept the statement made, since it embodies the belief of many a faithful child of God, and is also the teaching of a grand section of the One Church. It has been said, we think well said, “A bushel of superstition is better than a grain of infidelity.”

We have always been interested in relics. Some demand a very wide range of faith to accept, since much sight of them is denied: as, for instance, the relic in the Chapelle de S. Sang at Bruges, yet that is one which we could not repudiate altogether. Again, we have seen, in Saint Ursula’s Church in Cologne, Germany, a lovely specimen of alabaster, which is asserted, distinctly, to be one of the “Water-pots” used at the marriage feast of Cana in Galilee. Certain it is that the present location of the vessel has been undisturbed for some seven hundred years, and that it is of unquestionable antiquity. We may doubt the statement made by the custos, if we choose, yet he makes it fully persuaded of the truth of his assertion. Therefore, as the matter is not of vital import, we freely accept what we cannot disprove. On such grounds as these we confess to accepting the tradition that Saint Luke was a painter as well as the unquestioned fact that he was an evangelist and a physician.

The Pictures

In the centuries prior to the Iconoclastic persecution, there appears to have existed a great number of pictures of a rude and archaic type, traditionally reported to have been painted by Saint Luke. Of these some, no doubt, were early lost through pagan barbarism, Mahometan fury, and even Christian intolerance. An interesting letter of Epiphanius to John, Bishop of Jerusalem, is preserved by Saint Jerome. He writes,

On my journey through Anablata, a village in Palestine, I found a curtain at the door of the Church, on which was painted a figure of Christ or some saint, I forget which. As I saw it was the image of a man, which is against the command of the Scriptures, I tore it down and gave it to the Church authorities, with the advice to use it as a winding-sheet for the next poor person who might have occasion for one, and bury it.

Many other pictures undeniably fell a prey to the zeal of the Iconoclasts, and these whether found in churches, monasteries, or belonging to individuals. Greater havoc could not well have been effected. The authorities under the Emperor Leo III and his successors not only destroyed every picture they could obtain, but also persecuted the possessors of these treasures, especially those who would not give them up. Sacred art was thus bereft of many of its finest examples. It is in Italy alone that important remains of sacred art, previous to this period, can now be seen, and this may be accounted for by the fact that the possessors of those sacred pictures travelled from the East to Rome, where freedom from persecution was then enjoyed. The second Council of Nice, under the Empress Irene, in 787, condemned the Iconoclasts, and after some further delay the use of sacred pictures in churches was restored, and in later times sculptured imagery also. The Greek section of the Church, however, to this day still retains the older order, and only allows pictures, and the flatter their surface the more orthodox.

List of Pictures


The Basilica of Saint John Lateran

Here, in the elegant Chapel, at the summit of the Santa Scala, called the “Sancta Sanctorum” and formerly the private Chapel of the Popes, is a painting of the Saviour, attributed to Saint Luke. It is 5 feet 8 inches in height, and tradition affirms it to be an exact likeness of our Lord at the age of twelve years.

The Basilica of Saint Maria Maggiore

The Chapel of the Borghese family is remarkable for the magnificence of its architecture and decorations. The altar-piece is formed of fluted columns, or bands, of oriental jasper; it is celebrated also for the miraculous painting of the Madonna and Child, attributed to Saint Luke; it is pronounced to be his work in the copy of a Papal Bull attached to one of the walls. It is affirmed to be the same painting which Gregory the Great carried in procession to stay the plague that devastated Rome in 590.

The Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedino

The picture of the Virgin in the Tribune is attributed to Saint Luke, and is a good specimen of early art. It bears a Greek inscription, and is said to have been secured by the Greeks when they fled from Constantinople. Though dark in colour, it has been described as yet most lovely; both the Mother and Child are full of grace and refined expression. It is interesting to remember that this Church was intended for the use of the Greek exiles, who were driven from the East by the Iconoclasts. Thus there appears a connection and, so to speak, a propriety, in this Church possessing a painting “by Saint Luke.”

The Church of Santa Maria in Via Lata

This church, near the Doria Palace, also boasts a picture. The church is said to occupy the site of the house where Saint Paul lodged with the centurion.

The Church of Santa Maria di Ara Caeli

This church contains a miracle-working wooden figure of the Infant Saviour, the Santissimo Bambino, whose powers for curing the sick have given it extraordinary popularity. The legend says that it was carved by a Franciscan pilgrim out of a tree which grew on the Mount of Olives, and that it was painted by Saint Luke while the pilgrim was sleeping over his work. The Bambino is extremely rich in gems and jewellery; it is held even now in much sanctity in cases of severe sickness; at one time it was said to receive more fees than any physician in Rome. We believe that this Church possesses a picture of the Madonna, in the Byzantine style, painted on a panel of cypress, which is also attributed to Saint Luke.

Church of Saints Dominico e Sisto

The following inscription is engraved on a tablet –

Here at the high altar is preserved that image of the most blessed Mary, which, being delineated by Saint Luke the Evangelist, received its colours and form divinely,” etc.

The Vatican – The Bibliotheca

A Greek cloth picture here is given, according to the traditions, as the work of the evangelist Saint Luke. It depicts the face of our Blessed Lord surrounded by a gold and jewelled mounting (horseshoe shape) in the form of a nimbus. Independent of the tradition, a credible and apparently authenticated history refers it to a period about the middle of the third century. It is executed in a thick water-colour, or tempera pigment, on a panel of cypress wood, now nearly decayed. The features are more made out and more marked in character than is generally to be observed in the “cloth” pictures.


Saint Mark’s

In the north transept is the Chapel of the Madonna, and it contains the most popular altar in Venice. The reason for this is that it possesses an “old Greek pciture” which is asserted to have been painted by Saint Luke. It was brought from Constantinople by the blind old Doge, Enrico Dandoro, when he besieged and took that city in 1204. It is held “somma venerazione” – religious services are performed before it almost without cessation. According to the Venetians, it is identical with the picture of Pulcheria.


The Church “Santissma Annunziata”

In the chapel of the “Annunciation” is the miraculous fresco representing this far-reaching event in the history of mankind. The painter was Pietro Cavalliere, or a certain Bartolomeo. It is a disputed point which of the two is the real author, but tradition says that he, while musing and meditating on the perfections of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and feeling also how inefficient his powers were to represent her features worthily, fell asleep. On awaking he found that the head of the Virgin had been wonderfully completed during his slumbers by Saint Luke, or by angels who had descended from heaven for the purpose. Though this relic has been frequently restored, no one has presumed to touch the features of the Virgin, which are marvellously sweet and beautiful. It is concealed by a veil, on which is painted a head of the Redeemer; around it, continually alight, are forty-two lamps of silver. A copy of the fresco, by Carlo Dolce, is in the Pitti Palace.


Church of San Bartolomeo

In the sacristy of the church is a picture claimed to be by Saint Luke. It is enclosed in a silver shrine, on which is depicted in relief a long list of miracles which it has performed. Other traditions there are, which vary on the question of authorship; the evidence, however, of its high antiquity is singularly conclusive. Eusebius quotes ecclesiastical writings then extant to show that this picture was known to exist in the Royal Library at Edessa, in the middle of the second century, and it was then considered an undoubted work of the apostolic age. Moses Caronere, an Armenian of the fourth century, also mentions it as in his possession in his capacity as keeper of the royal archives at Edessa. His authority, on this account, can scarcely be questioned. The German critic, Schroeder, does not hesitate to style him an author “optimae notae et indubitatae fidei”. Again, in the same century, Saint Ephrem, deacon of the Church in Edessa, makes mention of it. Eusebius, on his own authority, speaks of it as existing in his time. The historian Evagrius, in the sixth century, mentions it as performing many wonders in his day. The picture remained in its place in the Royal Library at Edessa till the Genoese, in the middle of the tenth century, removed it to its present locality in the Church of San Bartolomeo.

Padua, Italy

Church of San Giustiana

In a subterranean chapel behind the altar in the north transept is a sepulchral urn erected by Gualportino Mussato in 1316, in which are preserved the reputed remains of Saint Luke. A small chapel, opening out of the right transept, contains a miraculous image of the Virgin, supposed to have been brought from Constantinople by Saint Urius, where it narrowly escaped the flames raised to destroy it by the Iconoclast Emperor Constantinus in the eighth century.

Moscow, Russia

The Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin

A picture on the Iconostasis – that of the Holy Virgin of Vladimir – is pointed out as having been painted by Saint Luke. It came originally from Constantinople, and it was brought to Moscow from Kief in 1155. It is one of the most ancient icons in Russia, and it is painted on a composition of wax. The jewels with which the picture is adorned are valued at £45,000, an emerald among the number alone being worth £10,000. The icon is in good preservation.


The Patriarchal Church of Saint Qeorge

This church in the Phanar, or Greek quarter, also contains, as we have been told, a picture ascribed to Saint Luke, though we have endeavoured, in vain, to obtain some detail concerning it. An authority very kindly tells us of a picture of the Blessed Virgin, which Saint Luke is said to have painted. It was carried from time to time, to and fro, between the Monastery of the Chora and the Monastery of the Hodegetria, near the mouth of the Golden Horn. It was conveyed in procession to the walls of the city in times of siege, or other public troubles. It is said to have been cut into shreds by the Janissaries when Constantinople was taken in 1453. In spite of this account of the destruction of this gem, it was spoken of some few years back as being then in existence. “The Guardian,” of 30 November 1870 states that there had been

submitted to the view of Her Majesty and the Prince of Wales some unique and interesting works of early Chrislian art; one of these is a picture called the Marie Hodegedrin, or the Virgin and Child, alleged to be painted by Saint Luke “the Evangelist. The authenticity of the work is said to be vouched for by certain inscriptions in Chaldaic.

Mount Athos


The Catholicon here contains a remarkable picture of the Blessed Virgin, perhaps the finest specimen of the Byzantine school on Athos. The Mother is represented in the act of kissing the Child, whose arm hangs down naturally. It is attributed to the great Evangelist painter, and is called the Glykophilousa, or the Sweetly-kissing One. It was thrown into the sea at the time of the Iconoclasts, and being wafted to Athos was brought ashore by the Fathers. In the place where it landed a spring gushed forth, and this spring still exists. The icon is placed against the northeast pillar which supports the dome. Mr Athelstan Riley tells us that the size of this picture is about four feet by two feet (not larger), and it is in good preservation, the figure and face being distinct.

The Church of the Monastery of Saint Dionysus

In this church, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, is a paracclesi of the Panaghia containing a picture ascribed to Saint Luke. It is quite small, and now utterly ruined, both the form and the colour of the picture being much obliterated.


In this chief church of Caryes, on the north side, under the arch of the north transept, is a picture also attributed to Saint Luke. It is in good preservation, and is in size about four feet by two feet.


We had hoped, from the outset, to find England possessing a painting by Saint Luke, and consequently were charmed to read in an old book, entitled “A Six Weeks Tour through the Southern Counties of England and Wales” published in 1769, the following description of one of the pictures in the dining-room at Wilton House, the seat of the Earls of Pembroke –

“Saint Luke. Virgin and our Saviour. You will be surprised to find Saint Luke in a catalogue of painters; but the house-keeper tells you, with a very grave face, there are writings in the Library which prove it; but it is too good for Palestine or Judea; it is very fine.”

The present Earl of Pembroke, however, does not agree with the opinion above quoted, and courteously tells us that he knows of no writings which can be held to substantiate the accuracy of the statement.


Saint Luke’s talents were not confined apparently to one branch of art. He would seem to have been a carver as well as a painter. In Spain there are a number of images of the Virgin ascribed to Saint Luke. Antonio Ponz is surprised at the number of them. Nearly all are very dark in colour, “black, but comely” (Song of Solomon 1:3).



In the parish church is a miraculous image of the Virgin. Volumes have been written on this graven image, and the miracles it has worked. The image was made by Saint Luke, and brought to Barcelona, so the tradition runs, by Saint Peter the Apostle in the year 50. It is rudely carved in dark wood; the Virgin holds the Child in her lap. “None” we are told, “can dare to look at it long” and the monks, in dressing and undressing it, always avert their eyes.


In the church here is another image of the Virgin carved by Saint Luke. Though now despoiled of its silver throne, the silver angels, the eighty silver lamps, the gold, jewels, and other rich surroundings, it has always had a great renown. That conquering vandal, Victor, left the image, though he robbed its valuable surroundings. It may be that he feared its sanctity.


We have been most anxious to compile a complete and descriptive list of all the pictures now existing that are attributed to Saint Luke, but to accomplish this has been found exceedingly difficult. In the preceding enumeration we do not presume by any means to give a perfect list, and indeed we shall be much indebted to any one who can supply information respecting others.

– Walter Hayward Pitman


According to the old rules, before mixing his colours, the painter was directed to fall on his knees, and recite the following prayer. – Athos, page 275

Lord Jesus Christ, Our God, who wast endowed with a Divine and incomprehensible nature, Who didst take a body in the womb of the Virgin Mary for the salvation of mankind, and didst deign to limn the sacred character of Thy immortal Face, and to impress it upon a holy veil, which served to cure the jickness of the satrap Abgarus and to enlighten his soul with the knowledge of the True God; Thou Who didst illuminate with Thy Holy Spirit Thy Divine Apostle and Evangelist Luke, that he might represent the beauty of Thy most pure Mother, who carried Thee, a tiny Infant, in her arms and said, “The Grace of Him Who is born of me is poured out upon men!” Do Thou, Divine Master of all that exists, do Thou enlighten and direct the foul and heart and spirit of Thy servant {name}; guide his hands that he may be enabled worthily and perfectly to represent Thy image, that of Thy most holy Mother, and those of all the Saints for the glory, the joy, and the embellishment of Thy most holy Church. Pardon the sins of all those who shall venerate these icons, and of those who, piously casting themselves on their knees before them, shall render honour to the models which are in the heavens. Save them, I beseech Thee, from every evil influence, and instruct them by good counsels, through the intercessions of Thy most holy Mother, of the illustrious Apostle and Evangelist, Saint Luke, and of all They Saints. Amen.