St Luke and the Church’s Year

Rogier van der Weyden, St Luke painting the Virgin

This painting by Rogier van der Weyden shows St Luke making a silverpoint drawing of the Virgin Mary, just as an artist of the time would have prepared a portait from life. He is dressed in the clothes of the 15th century and they are situated in a contemporary century Flemish interior. The artist was almost certainly influenced by Van Eyck’s painting of Chancellor Rolin.

In this year in most churches it is the Gospel of St Luke which will be read semi-continuously and during most of the seasons as well. St Luke’s Gospel is possibly the most pictorial of all Gospels. It  provides a glimpse of the life and identity of the Virgin Mary, the Nativity, the visit of the shepherds and other scenes from before Christ’s birth and from his infancy. St Luke present himself at the beginning of the Gospel as making a record of what took place, and there are various early icons which were believed to be painted by St Luke himself of the Virgin Mary. It may be the way he pictorially records events and builds a picture of the early life of Christ which led him to become the patron of artists in the 14th century in Italy and elsewhere.

Apart from the Infancy scenes, the Gospel gives us many others frequently painted by artists: The Prodigal Son; the Lost Sheep; The Good Samaritan; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary; the anointing of Jesus’ feet, and the Road to Emmaus.

One resource for the study of St Luke’s Gospel in painting is a set of three volumes by Professor Heidi Hornik, an art historian and Professor Mikeal Parsons, a biblical scholar at Baylor University. It is a really interesting example of a biblical scholar and art historian working together. Volume One is entitled Illuminating Luke: The Infancy Narrative in Italian Renaissance Painting looks at the infancy of Christ in St Luke’s text and in works by Leonardo, Ghirlandaio and Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Volume Two is entitled Illuminating Luke:The Public Ministry of Christ in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting on the ministry and includes paintings by Raphael, Guercino and Bassano. Volume Three is entitled Illuminatiung Luke: The Passion and Resurrection Narratives in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting

Timothy Verdon’s book of reflections on paintings for the church year C  is another resource for the church’s year in Italian. Timothy Verdon is an art historian and a Canon of Florence Cathedral, who has written extensively in Italian on the art of the church. This is part of a three volume commentary on the Lectionary.


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