Saint Luke Painting the Madonna


Maerten de Vos
Antwerp 1532 - Antwerp 1603
oil on panel
270 x 217 cm
Inventory number 88

According to legend, the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus appeared before Saint Luke in a vision. The latter captured the moment in an icon, a feat to which he owes his status as patron saint of painters. In this painting, Luke is seen in the company of the Virgin and Child inside a monumental hall. Beside him lies an ox, the evangelist’s symbol. On the left, an assistant is preparing paint. In his left hand the saint holds some brushes, while his right hand rests on a stick, to prevent it from touching the wet paint. This painting by Maerten de Vos is part of a triptych that used to adorn the altar of the Guild of St Luke at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp. The old altarpiece had been seriously damaged during the Iconoclastic Fury of 1566, but it took almost twenty years before the guild could finally agree to have it replaced.

A blanc triptych

Before Maerten de Vos began work on the panel, it had hung unpainted in the guild’s chapel inside the Cathedral. In 1598, Adam van Noort, the dean of the guild, had the blanc triptych taken down in order to transfer it to his workshop. But this prompted protest from other guildsmen, as Van Noort had not specified what he intended to do with it. Four years on, the now elderly Maerten de Vos was finally commissioned to execute the centre panel. The wings were the work of respectively Otto van Veen and either Ambrosius Francken I or Marten Pepyn.

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