Jan Jansz, Luke the Evangelist, oil on panel, 73 x 58 cm, 1654, Groninger Museum, Groningen. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons).
The work depicts Luke the Evangelist; one of the four ascribed authors of the canonical gospels. It is part of a series of the four evangelists painted by Jan Jansz in 1655. It is not known who commissioned the four works; but it is known that Jansz was a protestant who worked for Roman Catholics. In this small devotional canvas, Luke is portrayed as an older man with a beard and thinning grey hair, wearing a long-sleeved red tunic and with a cloak draped over his elbow. Paused mid-thought, he rests a finger on his book with his left hand near the inkwell, as though not to lose his place in the very text he is writing, and holds up a pen with his right-hand. Luke’s attribute, the winged ox, is on the right hand side of the composition, almost resting on his left elbow. Although Luke fills the picture frame, dominating the composition, his far shoulder is diminished. The greater scale of the head in proportion to the shoulders gives the illusion of proximity to the subject: the viewer feels very close to Luke, as the optic that we would now call ‘short focal length’ adds to the overall intimacy of the portrait. In 1821, the four paintings composing the series were sold at auctions. In 1952 the Groninger Museum purchased two, and some sixty years later, the remaining two pieces were bought from two different private collectors.