Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin

about 1435–40
Rogier van der Weyden (Flemish, about 1400–1464)


137.5 x 110.8 cm (54 1/8 x 43 5/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil and tempera on panel

On View

William A. Coolidge Gallery (Gallery 243A)





This is among the most important northern European paintings in the United States. In it Rogier exquisitely combined the Gothic legacy of stylized patterning with a new sense of naturalism. He did not, however, merely replicate the world around him, but manipulated details to create an intricate program of symbols. For example, the enclosed garden in this painting refers to the Virgin’s purity while the carved figures of Adam and Eve on the arms of the throne symbolize Christ’s and Mary’s roles in redeeming humankind from original sin. Rogier may have modeled Saint Luke’s features on his own.


About 1435/1440, possibly the Chapel of St. Catherine, Cathedral of St. Gudule, Brussels (original commission) [see note 1]. Between 1520 and 1574, probably given by Philip II of Spain (b. 1527 - d. 1598) to the Escorial, Madrid [see note 2]. By 1835, Don Infante Sebastián Gabriel Borbón y Braganza (b. 1811 - d. 1875), Madrid [see note 3]; 1837, confiscated from Braganza by Isabella II, Queen of Spain (b. 1830 - d. 1904) [see note 4]; by 1868, returned by the Queen of Spain to Sebastián Gabriel Borbón y Braganza [see note 5]; 1875, by descent to his son Pedro de Borbón y de Borbon, Duque de Dúrcal (b. 1862-d. 1892); April 5, 1889, Borbón y de Borbón sale, American Art Association, New York, lot 67, to Henry Lee Higginson, Boston; 1893, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lee Higginson to the MFA. (Accession Date: May 30, 1893)

[1] See Dirk de Vos, Rogier van der Weyden: The Complete Works (Antwerp, 1999), cat. no. 8, pp. 203, 206, n. 14. The panel may have been installed in the chapel devoted to St. Catherine at the Cathedral of St. Gudule, where the city's guild of painters held their services and where the artist was buried. Alternatively, it may have been installed in their guildhouse. Luke was the patron saint of painters' guilds.

[2] See De Vos (as above, n. 1), pp. 200, 203-204. This was probably the painting seen by the artist Albrecht Dürer during his stay in Brussels in 1520, and it is probably the painting listed in the 1574 inventory of works of art Philip II placed in the Escorial.

[3] Inventory, Galería de Pinturas del Serenísimo Señor Ynfante Don Sebastian Gabriel, 1835, no. 102 (attributed to Lucas van Leyden). Archivo de Palacio, Sección Histórica, caja 123, as cited by Mercedes Agueda, "La colleción e pinturas del infante Don Sebastián Gabriel," Boletín del Museo del Prado, III, 8 (1982): 109.

[4] In 1837, Sebastián Gabriel Maria de Borbón y Braganza's possessions were confiscated for political reasons and the paintings were exhibited in the Museo de la Trinidad.

[5] The painting was returned to Braganza when he recognized Isabella II as the Queen of Spain. Exhibited, "Catalogue abrégé des tableaux exposés dans les salons de l'ancien asile de Pau, appartenant aux héritiers de feu Mgr. l'Infant don Sébastien [Gabriel] de Bourbon et Bragnace" (Pau, September, 1876), no. 641.

Credit Line

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lee Higginson