St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child Interactive Image
Bowes Museum Project
Created on January 13, 2021
Welcome to this interactive version of 'Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child' created by the Bowes Museum! Your task is to explore and learn about this 15th-century painting. Use the blue 'information' button on every page to get you started and explore by clicking the 'eyes' or 'question marks'
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Welcome to this interactive version of 'Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child' created by the Bowes Museum!
Your task is to explore and learn about this 15th-century painting using the interactive 'question mark' and 'eye' buttons. Click these buttons to reveal information about the painting. Every section will have a blue 'information' button in the top right corner to get you started.
Start by clicking the 'Background Information' button to find out a bit about the painting before beginning your exploration. You can get back to this main screen at any time by clicking the yellow 'Home' button in the bottom left corner.
There will be tasks to complete along the way, shown by the purple 'pencil' button so make sure you have a pen and paper with you before you start!
St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child
This painting was painted by the Workshop of Dieric Bouts. Instead of just one artist, it was done by a collection of artists in the style of Dieric Bouts The Elder (who created the workshop). Although Bouts, the master, would oversee the artists and apprentices he employed in his workshop, he himself probably worked on important aspects of the painting which required more technical expertise (skills) such as the face and hands, especially for the top layer of paint.
It was painted sometime between the years 1470 and 1480 (the 15th century) during a period known as The Renaissance. This was towards the end of Bouts' life.
As with many old paintings, we do not know the exact date, however, art historians have used techniques such as dating the paint to determine an estimate.
Dieric Bouts was a Dutch painter, born in Haarlem (a city in the north of the Netherlands), but worked mostly in Leuven (in Belgium). This is where he set up his workshop with his sons.
This painting was originally painted onto an oak panel, but in 1899 the image was transferred from the wooden panel to canvas by a British conservator (a person responsible for the repair and preservation of old things such as paintings).
The fact it was originally painted on a wooden panel suggests that it was painted for a religious building. There are no documents accompanying the picture so we cannot be sure, however, it is believed it could have been commissioned (asked to be painted) by a wealthy person for display in their private chapel within their home, although it is unusually large for its type and date.
Click on each square to find out more about the painting before clicking the home button to explore the painting in more detail.
Velvet is an expensive fabric that is soft to touch, made from natural fibers of silk. This is a velvet brocade which means that it is combined with gold thread, making it more eye-catching.
Here it is used for the cloth of honour which hangs behind the Virgin Mary (who St Luke is painting). The cloth of honour shows the importance of the Virgin Mary. Traditionally, this type of fabric would hang behind royalty in portraits. This expensive cloth creates a visual division (split) between St Luke and the Virgin Mary, showing the divinity of the Virgin in contrast with the humanity of St Luke.
Fur is soft and fluffy. St Luke is wearing a gown that was fashionable at the time this was painted. Fur from animals was used by people both rich and poor in this period for its warmth, but it is clear that these fur cuffs are decorative. Look at the way the artist has used lots of short brush strokes to create the dense texture of the fur. Different colours have been used to show each strand, working together to create a fluffy texture.
Marble is smooth, cold, and hard. This red marble is called Verona marble, and, as the name suggests, it comes from Verona (a town in Italy). We know that it was a very rare material, especially in the Netherlands, where this painting is meant to be set. Therefore, the marble indicates to the viewer that this is a fabricated (imagined) scene. These marble columns also act as a barrier between the interior (inside) and exterior (outside) of the painting.
Linen is thick and soft to touch.
It is a material that has been used for over 30,000 years. It is made from fibres of a plant called flax and is very strong and absorbent, making it the perfect material to swaddle (wrap) infants. It is still used today, especially for things like tablecloths and handkerchiefs.
In the painting, you can see the linen cloth is draped over the Virgin Mary's arm that supports baby Jesus. The white linen material emphasizes the innocence of the baby Jesus, and creates a contrast with the red fabric of the Virgin Mary which draws the eye to Jesus straight away.
Wool, a natural animal fibre commonly from sheep, was a common textile (fabric) used for clothes in this period. However, the wool in the painting is dyed red, an expensive process that not many people could afford. This shows the viewer of the painting that the figures are of high status, making a separation between the everyday viewers of the painting and the figures within it. If this were a modern painting, how would you create this separation?
Click on each image to find out more about the different textures used in this painting and the techniques used to create them.
Tiles are smooth and shiny. These geometric floor tiles are made up of lots of different colours, all of which are repeated elsewhere in the painting. This creates visual connections within the painting. For example, the pink encourages you to look at Saint Luke (dressed in pink) and the blue draws your attention up to the sky in the background of the painting. Go back to the home page and see if you can spot any other connections!
Look really close at the view out of the window. What can you see?
The landscape depicted by the artist is not the northern European landscape that would have been seen through the window of Bouts’ studio, nor is it the North African landscape where Jesus was born. It is a landscape that has been created to enhance the sense that we are in a heavenly realm. It creates a contrast to the realism of St Luke's studio.
Think about the colours used - how does the blue make you feel? What effect does it it have on the painting as a whole?
Have you spotted the castle? This immediately transports the viewer into a different landscape than that of St Luke's studio. What does the castle make you think of?
These pillars frame the view, but they also separate the viewer from it. Why do you think Bouts chose to paint these pillars like marble with a very ornate design?
1. Make a list of all the things you spot in the background and think about how they relate to the whole painting. Use the number prompts to get started.
2. If you were to design an imaginary landscape, what colours would you use and why?
3. Using this as inspiration, draw your own version of the fantasy landscape.
St Luke's Studio
Have a guess at what you think these tools are and then click the green question mark to see if you're right!
Think about how these tools are different from artists' tools today!
These are paintbrushes made from animal hair such as a boar or sable. They were usually made at the artist's workshop by apprentices, but you could also buy them ready-made.
These are mussel shells being used as paint pots. The paint would've been made in the artist's workshop from natural minerals such as chalk (to make white) or lapis lazuli (to make the blue like the Virgin Mary's robe) mixed with oil. This is where we get the term oil paint from.
Here we can see St Luke's sketch of the Virgin Mary. He is using a technique called silverpoint. The stylus is made of a silver wire inserted into a wooden holder and the silver leaves a mark on the parchment.
It is like doing a pencil sketch before committing to drawing in something more permanent. It was a popular technique in the period and many paintings show artists using this technique.
The subject (topic or story) of the painting comes from a 6th-century legend that St Luke was the first to draw a portrait of the Virgin Mary. This was a popular topic during the Renaissance with many artists creating their own interpretation of the story.
1. Make a list of the similarities and differences.
2. Which painting do you like best and why?
3. How does each painting make you feel? Do the colours used change the feeling of the painting?
4. Using this as inspiration, draw your own version of St Luke drawing the Virgin Mary. Make sure you include the similarities as well as your own interpretation.
Click on each question mark to find out more about the figures central to the painting. Think about how they are portrayed and the differences between them.
You can also hover over the faces of each figure to view them in more detail.
The Virgin Mary
The Virgin Mary is an important figure in the Christian Bible, chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus. She is shown here offering fruit to the baby Jesus.
Unlike Saint Luke, The Virgin Mary is dressed in traditional Biblical dress. This separates her from Saint Luke and emphasises her divinity (holyness). She is dressed in blue and red, which is typical for representations of the Virgin Mary - these were the most expensive paints which shows her importance. If you hover over her hair you will see it has golden glints that look like stars. This is another subtle was by which the artists shows Mary to be someone special.
St Luke was one of the 12 apostles (early Christian teachers) who wrote one of the gospels (records of Jesus' life and teaching in the New Testament). He was the Patron Saint of artists and said to be the first person to have painted the Virgin Mary.
He is portrayed in 'modern' dress in this painting, his clothes would have been recognisable to the original audience as the latest fashion. Particularly his 'acorn cap', which is seen in other paintings by Bouts. By wearing a current item of fashion, Luke looks more like an ordinary person than a holy saint.
This is a very traditional interpretation of the baby Jesus, he has blonde curls and a round angelic face representing his youth and innocence.
1. Hover over the faces of the figures. Think about where they are looking - does this affect the way we view the painting? What do their expressions tell us about their personality?
2. Think about the way the figures are positioned. St Luke is half kneeling, half-standing while the Virgin Mary is sat on a comfortable chair. What does this tell us about their relationship?
3. Read the information about each figure and think about what their clothes tell the audience. If you were to paint this in modern day, how would you dress them?
The painting coming 'home'
The painting was bought by The Bowes Museum in 2016. A year later, in October 2017, it went to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery where it was on display for two years until travelling to York Art Gallery in September 2019. It returned to The Bowes Museum in August 2020, after nearly three years ‘on tour’.
Here we can see the painting being put on the wall. This shows the size of the painting - look at it in comparison to the people putting it up!
Think about these questions:
1. What is the difference between seeing the painting on the computer and seeing it in real life?
2. If you were putting this painting on the wall, what kind of frame would you use? What colour would you paint the wall behind?