One of the best places to learn about the tools and techniques that medieval artists employed to create illuminated manuscripts is their depictions of saints writing and illustrating sacred texts. In art, when St. Luke represents the Virgin, he typically clutches a paintbrush or quill in his hand, and he often stands or sits at a lectern. Sometimes, he holds a knife, which was used for scraping out errors, sharpening pens, or a variety of other tasks. That’s why Orsola Maddalena Caccia’s circa 1625 painting “St. Luke the Evangelist in the Studio” is so unusual.
Her altarpiece painting confronts visitors immediately upon entering the exhibit “Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea,” on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington through April 12. The Italian nun depicts the saint as a sculptor mid-study. Clad in magenta and black robes, Luke sits at a table with books and an unfinished manuscript behind him. An ox, his emblem, lurks behind the table, and a beautiful seascape is visible out a window in the top right corner of the painting. Directly beneath the window, a finished or nearly complete canvas hangs on an easel.
That Caccia made Luke a sculptor is rare, and that he is both a sculptor and a painter is “highly unusual” or even unprecedented, exhibit curator Msgr. Timothy Verdon wrote in his catalog essay for the exhibit.
Read more of “Exhibit encourages viewers, religious and secular, to ‘Meet Mary’” in National Catholic Reporter.