October 18th is the feast day of St Luke, the patron saint of painters.
Tucked away in a corner of the cloister of the church of Santissima Annunziata is the Cappella di San Luca, (Chapel of St Luke), also known as the Cappella dei Pintori (Chapel of the Painters). The chapel was the meeting-place of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, which was set up in 1563 by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici (r.1537-74).
The chapel's altarpiece was painted by Giorgio Vasari (1511-74), one of the first academicians, and depicts St Luke painting an image of the Virgin and Child.
Many artists are buried in the chapel's crypt, including Jacopo Pontormo (1494-57) and Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71). The tomb slab bears the inscription, FLOREAT SEMPER VEL INVITA MORTE (Let him flourish forever in spite of death).
The Academy continued to meet in the Cappella di San Luca until 1784.
Before the creation of the Academy, painters had been members of the Arti dei Medici e Speziali (Guild of Doctors and Apothecaries). This seems a strange association, but one which can be explained by the fact that the pigments, which painters ground for their colours, allied them to the profession of the apothecary!
In 1339 the painters formed their own professional body, the Campagnia di San Luca (Company of St Luke). St. Luke was the patron saint of painters, for, according to legend, the evangelist had once painted the portrait of the Virgin Mary.