Animals > Oxen
The carved oak quatrefoil showing a winged ox represents St Luke, one of the four evangelists. The ox is a sacrificial beast, appropriate as an emblem of Luke since his gospel begins with an account of the sacrifice of the priest Zacharias, prefiguring the sacrifice of Christ. His gospel is indicated by the scroll beneath the ox’s hooves. Luke was supposed to have been a physician and to have painted the first portrait of Mary. He is, therefore, the patron saint of doctors and artists.
The winged ox is one of the four apocalyptic beasts that appeared to Ezekiel in a vision and were adopted by the early Christian Church to represent the four evangelists. The four emblems fitted neatly and artistically at the corners of manuscripts and into architectural settings such as the corners of chapels, under domes, on arches and doorways and in stained-glass windows. This wooden quatrefoil, made of four pieces of oak pegged together, dates from c.1600 but echoes Romanesque and Gothic designs.
The icon St Luke was thought to have painted showed the Virgin holding the Christ Child on her left arm. According to Byzantine tradition the icon was taken to Constantinople where it became known as the Virgin Hodegetria. Famed for its miraculous powers, it was widely copied.
St Luke gave his name to the medieval trade guild for painters, sculptors, goldsmiths and other artists. Icon painters are still advised to say a prayer to St Luke before beginning to paint.
This 17th-century oak panel shows St Luke with a quill and his gospel in the form of a book rather than as a flowing scroll. He appears to stand in a niche, although the panel is fairly thin, because the arcade carved above his head tapers inwards, his feet overlap the frame and the ox seems comfortably seated behind him, all giving an illusion of depth. Two angels in the spandrels guard him.