Tradition of Luke painting the "first icon"?

Discussion in 'Church History' started by wturri78, May 5, 2009.

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  1. wturri78

    wturri78 Puritan Board Freshman

    To all the church history buffs (because I don't have time to track it down for myself!): I've found it common for Eastern Orthodox (and others, sometimes) to claim that Luke created the first "icon" of Mary with Jesus. One or two articles claimed that this tradition was alluded to in some early church writings, including Esubius' history of the church.

    Any idea how/when this belief came into being, how widely it may have been believed, and whether there is any factual basis for it? Obviously uncovering factual basis for anything that old can be a challenge.

    Apparently though, iconography does show up pretty early in history, although from what little I've read, icons weren't widely used in public worship until the 4th or 5th century.
  2. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

  3. PresbyDane

    PresbyDane Puritanboard Doctor

  4. Idelette

    Idelette Puritan Board Graduate

    I've read that before, however, it has never been proven. It is all speculation from what I understand......although the Eastern Orthodox Church does hold to it. Personally, I doubt that the Apostle Luke would have painted such icons of Mary and Jesus because it would have violated the second commandment. But, that's just my personal opinion. Here is what I pulled from Wikipedia:

    "Another Christian tradition states that he [referring to the Apostle Luke] was the first iconographer, and painted pictures of the Virgin Mary (The Black Madonna of Częstochowa) and of Peter and Paul. Thus late medieval guilds of St Luke in the cities of Flanders, or the Accademia di San Luca ("Academy of St Luke") in Rome, imitated in many other European cities during the 16th century, gathered together and protected painters. There is no scientific evidence to support the tradition that Luke painted icons of Mary and Jesus, though it was widely believed in earlier centuries, particularly in Eastern Orthodoxy. The tradition also has support from the Saint Thomas Christians of India who claim to still have one of the Theotokos icons that St Luke painted and Thomas brought to India.[18]

    *I added the section in bold.
  5. wturri78

    wturri78 Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for the thoughts! Presuppositions abound in all attempts to discern history. I tend to agree with you, that Luke would not have painted an image of Christ due to the 2nd commandment--but on the other hand, that's only because of that interpretation of the 2nd commandment. I've read many arguments about iconography based on the incarnation, etc. and I have to say I straddle the line and am still quite undecided about images of Christ. At least the eastern artwork does not claim to attempt to actually portray what the person looked like. Catholic images, on the other hand, end up with Mary and Jesus looking awfully European! To say nothing of Hollywood...

    Boy, did I digress, or what?

    I guess this tradition belongs in the category with many more--things that were claimed and held by people (apparently) quite early in history, and we can never validate or disprove them. Perhaps things like these fall into the category of "myths and endless geneologies" that really don't matter much and should not be allowed to divide Christians. Although, they often touch on matters that can, have, and possibly should divide Christians.

    Still, a question that often is in my mind is this: if some early father or other figure who we would generally trust, and who holds to beliefs and perhaps traditions that we believe, also believes something like a tradition of St. Luke painting an icon, does that in any way lend credibility to that tradition?


    If anyone else knows anything more about this (like who first claimed it, how widely it was held, etc.) I'd be quite interested to know.
  6. D

    D Puritan Board Junior

    I stand to be corrected, but I doubt that Eusebius of Caesarea would have recorded any alleged account of Luke having painted a picture and/or image of Christ, especially since Eusebius was personally opposed to icons. But he did mention the following...
    Irenaeus makes reference to a Gnostic tradition concerning an image of Christ alleged to have been "made" by Pilate...

  7. wturri78

    wturri78 Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks, DTK. You are truly a goldmine of material that many of us wouldn't know to look for! I don't know whether Eseubius recorded the story of Luke--it's unclear from the following exerpt I read, written by a Coptic guy about the history of icons--he doesn't cite sources and it's unclear to me whether the bit about Luke is associated with Eseubius or not. The one that you quoted, about the woman with the flow of blood, is referenced here. Emphasis and bracketed comments are mine:

    The source of the quote is here:

    In what you've cited, both make reference to the painting of pictures or making of statues as gentile practices, basically done to honor people of importance. Even if the use of various icons occurred early in church history, that doesn't necessarily mean that the whole mystical-sounding theology of "windows into heaven" was tied to them that early.
  8. D

    D Puritan Board Junior

    Dear Bill,

    Thank you for your kind words.

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