St Luke is the patron saint of:
artists, bachelors, bookbinders, brewers, butchers, doctors, glass makers, glass workers, gold workers, goldsmiths, lace makers, lace workers, notaries, painters, physicians, sculptors, stained glass workers, surgeons and unmarried men. St. Luke, the writer of the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, has been identified with St. Paul’s “Luke, the beloved physician”. It is believed that Luke lived a long life and died c. 74 in Greece. He was the first Christian physician and was venerated by the Catholic Church as the patron saint of physicians and surgeons. Saint Luke is also considered the patron saint of painters because according to tradition, he had painted images of Mary and of Jesus. This was later proven to be incorrect.
Guilds of St. Luke
In the Dutch Golden Age the middle class due to peace and the cunning way of doing business became wealthy enough to buy big houses. A status symbol in such a house were one or more paintings. As this large new market emerged in Holland, St Luke guilds were formed or reorganized
in the major urban centres: Amsterdam (1579), Haarlem (reorganized in 1631), Utrecht (1611), and Delft (1611) among other cities.
During this period the painters within the St Luke guilds either broke away to form their own organizations or tried to subordinate other artists, such as glassmakers or printmakers, to the painters within the St Luke guild. The founding or restructuring of these guilds should be placed in the broader political context of the truce with Spain in 1609 and artists’ concerns about the reopening of the art market to competitors from the south. The city of Delft was at the forefront of this movement; it began its quest to strengthen restrictions against outsiders in 1609. When the new guild regulations were accepted, entrance dues increased five-fold and trade restrictions were tightened considerably.
The St Luke guild in Delft was able to elevate the status of the painters while still retaining other craftsmen in the guild. The guild articles from 1611 embraced as members “all those earning their living here with the art of painting, be it with fine brushes or otherwise,” including artisans who worked on glass, engravers, sculptors, and booksellers.
Vermeer and St. Luke Guild
The lives of 17th-century Dutch painters, and certainly Vermeer’s as well, were deeply affected by the Guild of Saint Luke. Each city had its own self-governing guild which protected, promoted and defended the interests of its members.
“Membership of the guild brought along benefits, obligations and rules. A member was for instance not allowed to take over another member’s job except for in cases of force majeure such as illness or drunkenness. A simple sick benefit system existed, providing income and medical aid in case a member got seriously ill. Members were expected to attend at funerals of other members. Fees and fines for trespassing these rules were collected by a footman.” The following brief outline describes the basic characteristics of the guild as well as Vermeer’s association with it. The board of the guild of Saint Luke comprised six members (two potters, two stained-glass artists and two painters) under the leadership of a dean who was a member of the council of forty, a municipal advisory body.
|Lucasgilde, how it looks today, now houses Vermeer Museum
Training was expensive. On the average, the family of a young apprentice who lived with his parents paid between 20 and 50 guilders per year. With board and lodging included, up to 100 guilder were needed to study with the more famous artists such as Rembrandt or Gerrit Dou. If we consider that school education generally cost two to six guilders a year and that apprenticeship generally lasted between four and six years, the financial burden of educating a young artist was considerable. Moreover, during the apprenticeship, the parents had to do without their son’s potential earnings because during this period the apprentice could not sign and sell his own paintings. Instead, all the works the apprentice produced became property of his master. Evidently, the allure of significant future earnings must have been significant.
Although Vermeer must have undergone an apprenticeship like every other painter in Delft, there remains no evidence with whom he had studied. Nevertheless, his “pathway to the Saint Luke Guild was relatively easy, as the first step of guild membership had already been taken by his father, Reynier Jansz.”.
We do know, however, that Vermeer was admitted to the Delft Guild on the December 29th of 1653. He was unable to pay the entire entrance fee. His name can be seen on the register of the guild at number 77. The names of Pieter de Hooch (80) and Carel Fabritius (75) also appear on the same document. On Saint Luke’s Day, October 18th 1662, the artists of Delft chose Vermeer to be the vice-dean of their guild, which would seem to be proof that at that time he must have been a respected and highly thought-of-artist and citizen.
However, by the time Vermeer was elected headmaster, many of the artists resident in Delft had left for the more prosperous Amsterdam, and so his election may have had less significance than usually thought.