Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

St Luke painting the Virgin

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Crete (possibly, painted)
    Macedonia (Greece) (possibly, painted)

  • Date:

    Sixteenth Century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tempera and gilding on oak panel

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H, case SF, shelf 13

St Luke was one of the four evangelists. He was by profession thought to have been a painter and he became the patron saint of painters. The legend grew that Luke had painted the Virgin Mary and this episode is depicted here. The icon is double sided, and on the back is the prophet Daniel. The Bible relates that he was placed in a cell full of lions by the Persian king Darius and miraculously survived. The painter of this icon may have been an Italian artist working in Crete, or in Macedonia.

Physical description

St Luke Painting the Virgin; on the back, Daniel in the Lion's Den

Place of Origin

Crete (possibly, painted)
Macedonia (Greece) (possibly, painted)


Sixteenth Century (painted)



Materials and Techniques

Tempera and gilding on oak panel


Height: 19.5 cm, Width: 11.5 cm

Object history note

Purchased, 1927
This icon was purchased from Mrs. Charles Seltman for £9 in 1927. Isabella Seltman was the wife of Charles Theodore Seltman who is variously recorded as an academic, archaeologist and art dealer. Seltman had been affiliated with the British School at Athens from 1922 to 1923 and had moved back to England in 1926, when he was appointed a lecturer at Queen's College, Cambridge. Upon his return to Cambridge in 1926, Seltman sold a Minoan figurine to the Fitzwilliam Museum for the large sum of £2750, only to have its authenticity questioned. The following year, Isabella, offered five icons to the V&A for purchase, one of which was this double sided icon of Daniel and Saint Luke. The other icons listed for sale in the museum registry papers were: Christ Pantokrator, signed by the artist for £30; a Nativity of the Virgin for £20; a Cretan Virgin and Child for £20; and a Resurrection for £20. The more expensive panels were rejected, but Daniel/Luke was purchased for £9. The Seltmans are also listed as having lent a twelfth century paten to the exhibition of Byzantine art held at the Courtauld Institute in 1933.

Historical significance: This icon represents both an Old Testament Prophet, Daniel shown between two lions, as well as Saint Luke the evangelist, shown in his role as the first icon painter. The icon is small in scale and very portable, implying that its function concerned private devotion. Additionally, because the relationship between Daniel and Luke is not an established one in liturgical terms, this object was probably produced for an individual who specifically chose the figures portrayed because of a personal connection to the Saint and the Prophet.

While the surface on both sides of the panel is abraded, the painting appears to be of good quality and follows the trends of Cretan painting in the post Byzantine period. The modelling of the figures is created through the gradual building up of layers of pigment from dark colours to light, but some of the fine detail has been obscured due to abrasion.

The prophet Daniel has his feast day on 17 December in the orthodox liturgical calendar. In this icon he is shown wearing a hat, which is customary for Byzantine representations of Jewish biblical figures, a red cloak over a blue and gold tunic and blue leggings. In this case Daniel is placed in a rocky landscape between the two lions, rather than in a cityscape which is also sometimes seen.

Saint Luke is depicted in the traditional fashion with a blue tunic with a striped sleeve under a golden robe. He is seated in a throne-like chair with a foot stool and with buildings surrounding him as he uses a stylus to paint the panel of the Virgin and child before him. The unusual detail in this representation is the table on which the icon of the Virgin and child is propped. An easel is generally used in icons of the painting of the Virgin and Child. The feast day of Saint Luke is 18 October.

Descriptive line

Icon, 'St Luke Painting the Virgin', Greek School (Crete), Sixteenth century

Production Note

Greek School, (Crete)


Tempera; Gilt; Oak


Tempera; Gilding


Paintings; Religion; Christianity


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.