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Workshop of Quinten Massys, 'Saint Luke painting the Virgin and Child', about 1520?

Key facts
Full title Saint Luke painting the Virgin and Child
Artist Workshop of Quinten Massys
Artist dates 1465/6 - 1530
Series Panel from a Triptych
Date made about 1520?
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 114.9 × 35.4 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by Henry Wagner, 1924
Inventory number NG3902
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint Luke painting the Virgin and Child
Workshop of Quinten Massys

A man sits in a luxuriously furnished room, painting a picture. This is Saint Luke, patron saint of painters and physicians. Many of the objects around him refer to these professions, and his symbol, the ox, lies at his side.

The picture is full of information on how Renaissance painters worked. Saint Luke is seated at an easel; his painting, already in its frame, rests on an adjustable ledge. He is working on the Virgin’s head and his wooded palette is set out with an array of pigments. The saint supports his hand with a mahlstick with a padded grey knob on the end, which rests on the frame, and has a selection of brushes with wooden handles.

Books and containers for medicines sit on shelves at the back. Below hang two basketwork canisters, containers for urine flasks – the physician’s characteristic tool.

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Panel from a Triptych


These two paintings – Saint Luke painting the Virgin and Child and The Virgin standing in a Niche – are, in fact, the back and front of the same panel, which has been sawn through its thickness. They once formed the right wing of a triptych (a painting made in three parts). Although they have been cut on all four sides, not much has been lost and the triptych must have been tall and narrow in format. The centre panel probably showed the Virgin and Child enthroned, much as they appear in the picture Saint Luke is shown painting.

Differences in technique suggest they were by different painters, but both are close to the style of Massys and follow many of his technical procedures. They may well have been produced by two or more assistants in his workshop or by painters who trained there and continued to work together after leaving.