By Maria Alambritis

18 October is the Feast Day of St Luke, the patron saint of artists. For this reason, artists’ guilds and academies across Europe were often named after the saint, throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

St Luke is said to be the first icon painter and he is often depicted painting a portrait of the Virgin Mary.

The Accademia di San Luca was the most prestigious and powerful art institution in late-seventeenth and eighteenth-century Rome. Established in 1577 by a decree of Pope Gregory XIII, it replaced the older Università dei Pittori and was intended to serve the needs of Rome’s painters, sculptors and architects.

The Accademia initially welcomed all practitioners of the arts, but soon became more restrictive in its membership, excluding restorers and painters of ‘minor’ genres. However, it did admit members regardless of gender and nationality. Several women artists such as Plautilla Bricci, Rosalba Carriera and Maria Felice Tibaldi were given membership. Foreign artists could also hold senior positions. From 1624-1626, the French painter Simon Vouet acted as president and averted a crisis when Antiveduto Grammatica tried to sell Raphael’s St Luke Painting the Virgin, which hung on the altar of SS Luca e Martina.

During the nineteenth-century, the Accademia stopped teaching students and turned towards more administrative duties. Today it remains a national institution with an archive, library and art gallery.


Olivier Michel. “Accademia di S Luca.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press,

Giorgio Vasari, St Luke Painting the Virgin, after 1565, fresco, Santissima Annunziata, Florence.

Guercino, St Luke Displaying a Painting of the Virgin, 1652-1653, oil on canvas, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

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