Saint Luke painting the Virgin1567 - 1572. Wash, Pencil, Pencil, Grey-brown ink on dark yellow paper, 264 x 214 mm.
The Florentine painter and architect Giorgio Vasari is best known as the author of Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects), first published in Florence in 1550, with the revised and expanded version published in 1568. However, he was also a pioneer collector of Old Master drawings. Vasari worked for many years for the powerful Medici family in Florence, sometimes directing their most ambitious artistic projects, such as the pictorial decoration of the Palazzo Vecchio. He was also employed in Rome by a succession of popes. When Michelangelo died in 1564 Vasari, together with other members of the Accademia del Disegno, Florence, decorated the Basilica di Santa Croce for the artist’s funeral exequies.
Saint Luke was the Evangelist popularly believed to have been a painter, and because of this tradition he became the patron saint of painters. In western European art, Saint Luke is usually represented painting a divine apparition of the Virgin and Child. This is a finished study for Vasari’s fresco of Saint Luke painting the Virgin in the Cappella di San Luca in the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Florence. Vasari was awarded the commission late in his career, in the late 1560s or early 1570s. After his death, the fresco was completed by his younger rival Alessandro Allori (1535-1607), a fellow member of the Accademia del Disegno. Vasari’s nephew Marcantonio believed his uncle started the painting in 1573, but an earlier dating seems more likely and the drawing is now generally dated c.1568-72.
In 1560 the sculptor Fra Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli (c.1507-63), a member of the Servite Order at Santissima Annunziata, had been granted patronage of the chapel, which he then made over to his fellow Florentine artists, including Vasari, for conversion into a memorial chapel for artists. At an assembly held in the chapel on 24 May 1562, Vasari announced his intention to revive the old Compagnia di San Luca or artists’ guild (founded in 1349). The constitution of the Accademia del Disegno was approved on 13 January 1563 under the patronage of Cosimo I de Medici (1519–74). Montorsoli began the chapel decoration himself, but it was left unfinished at his death in 1563. The chapel is consecrated to the Holy Trinity, an allusion to the threefold function of disegno (drawing) in the arts of painting, architecture and sculpture. The fresco above the altar, by Bronzino (1503-72), depicts the Holy Trinity. The three noble arts are represented by Vasari’s fresco (painting), a fresco of Solomon building the Temple of Jerusalem (architecture) by Santi di Tito (1536-1602), and a dozen statues in niches in the walls (sculpture) carried out by various artists (Turner, N.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain´s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 50).