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Current time:0:00Total duration:8:28

Guercino, Saint Luke Displaying a Painting of the Virgin

Video transcript

well here we are looking at guerre chinos painting of Saint Luke painting the Virgin and Child or Saint Luke at the easel and there's an interesting painting to talk about from several respects Luke was a Luke was one of the four evangelists Luke Mark Luke and John he was one of the four evangelists writing one of the four Gospels that makes up the Christian Bible he was also believed to be a painter and Christians at the time and some today believe that he had actually painted firsthand images of Christ and the Virgin Mary and so he for that reason is also the patron saint of artists because he was mostly known as being sort of Christian tradition of making images and this desire to sort of have the image connect directly to Christ and the Apostles and to Mary and not have any distance between the image and and the reality absolutely and so this painting is interesting from that respect and that it shows Luke as an artist we also see in the background this inkwell with the cow or Bowl that is the allegorical symbol for Saint Luke sitting on top of a book which we have to assume is the gospel of Saint Luke one of the books of the Bible and so it shows him in this in this dual respect and in that sense it's almost a rather traditional representation of Saint Luke but it's also interesting because we could talk about this as a very good example of baroque painting from the 17th century this is from the 1650s because as another baroque paintings that had started developing in the late 1500s we have very naturalistic figures a sense of classicizing figures and architecture and clothing everything is relatively simple there's not a lot of things going on in the painting we have large figures in the foreground there's not a lot of distracting things in the background there's a rational sense of space and depth and light and so on and for all these respects that formerly speaking is a pretty traditional Baroque right that makes sense but what's maybe most interesting about this painting is how we can also think of it to a certain extent as a Counter Reformation painting sort of reaffirming the importance of images for the church absolutely for the Catholic Church we can think of this painting as a response that the Catholics are giving toward the Protestant Reformation for many decades at this point for over a hundred years the Protestant church especially in northern Europe have been criticizing the Catholics for many aspects of their devotion and religious practice but one of the main targets of the Protestant critics was religious art and in fact religious images were being destroyed in Protestant countries in some parts they were going around tearing paintings down gouging out sculptures eyes exactly because generally speaking the criticism was that art was not good according to the Protestants for religious purposes because it was distracting you would be distracted by the artists skill or the beauty of the painting or the eroticism of the figures and you could even be fooled into worshipping the image itself instead of the ideas behind the image the Protestants said that was a great great danger then you can be so astounded by you know painting by Leonardo that you would end up worshipping the image more than people worship images and think that they have magical powers and so rather than images the Protestants had said the primary focus of your devotion the primary tool for devotion and religious meditation should instead be text the word of the actual Bible itself and that's just saying that in and of itself is an attack on the church because one of the things that they were saying was at the church in all of its practices and rituals had gotten away from what Christ actually wrote in the Bible and encouraged a kind of going back and a close reading of the real text not just listening to the words of the priest and the practices of the church right saying that the authority was the text itself what was written about Christ rather than said the Pope or Archbishop telling you that to think pretty radical thing to say it was very radical that's why they got in so much trouble or big trouble so in any case after deck of this Protestant criticism in the Protestant churches the Lutheran's the Calvinists and so on are growing stronger and stronger the Catholic Church needed to formulate its response beginning in the mid 1500s and this is the period known as the Counter Reformation and one of the things that the Catholics do in the Counter Reformation and counter-reformation means against the Reformation exactly it's the Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation some people even call it the Catholic Reformation rather than the Protestant Reformation so one of the main points of the Catholic counter-reformation is that they're justifying the use of art they're saying that art is an important religious tool and one of the most straightforward reasons that they claimed it was that of course even though literacy had grown tremendously still most people did not know how to read and so the Catholics respond to the Protestants how can we tell people that the Bible is their main devotional tool if they can't even read and if books are still relatively rare objects instead they say the Catholics that religious images altarpieces and church's devotional images in your house these are more useful than books because everyone can understand what they're about they're immediately accessible you don't have to know how to read and as some people still say today a picture can be worth a thousand words you can communicate things with images that are impossible to communicate with written words on the page yeah so here in this painting what we have is not only a celebration of a painter Saint Luke a coordinated Catholic belief but this is really a very pointed a very rhetorical defense of painted religious images and it even suggests that painting is even more important than the written word let's talk about how we see that in this painting well of course we have st. Luke sitting at the easel with his palette and brushes and look how he turns looks of the viewer and gestures towards his painting of the Virgin and Child as if to say look at what I'm doing this is what I'm painting and in the background we have an angel looking over his shoulder looking pleasantly at the painting representing divine approbation as if God and the angels in heaven looking on approving inspired the but the Gospels so God inspired the paintings absolutely or at least approves of them but then what else do we see in the painting remember of course in a baroque painting nothing is included accidentally or for no reason and when we look over at the right side yeah as we mentioned there's this inkwell on the book but he's turned his back on them the pen is in the inkwell the book is closed there's this weight on top of it and as you said he's literally turned his back on the written word in order to focus on the painting and you know when you look at this you know and you think Oh Mary and the Christ child in this devotional image to inspire prayer and you think about which is gonna inspire prayer this right well this works for me exactly it's a very very rhetorical image we need to understand this painting in terms of the dialogue the conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics in terms of the Protestants saying focus on the text and the Catholics defending the use of images we should also add that the Protestants liked st. Luke quite a lot even though generally they were a little bit of verse to the cult of saints they did like Saint Luke as well as the other evangelists because he was a writer so here we have the Catholics celebrating him as a painter it's as if they're saying look Protestants you like Saint Luke you think he's a great hero because he was a writer but he was also a painter and therefore you cannot criticize painting because one of the great heroes of the church was a painter and made religious images according to their belief it's you know it's it's the church continually needing to sort of justify throughout its history at different moments the use of images and and their their power and this image just speaks to that so it's a very good example of that