Jacopo Ligozzi

Tobias and his Miraculous Fish, 1609, Pen and brown ink, brown wash, heightened with gold, on brown washed paper; squared with black chalk, 307 x 230 mm, Musée du Louvre, Paris; RF 5345, Recto, Photo: Thierry Le Mage © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

Seize the Fish and Don’t Let Go

Commentary by Mahnaz Yousefzadeh

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Read by Ben Quash

Jacopo Ligozzi’s preparatory drawing depicts an episode from chapter 6 of the book of Tobit, ubiquitous in the Florentine visual arts during the late medieval and early modern period (Conigliello 2005: 26–27). Tobit’s son Tobias, guided by the archangel Raphael, catches a fish during a stop at the river Tigris; Tobias is on his way from Nineveh to claim a debt in Media. Renaissance iconography typically depicts a moment just after this episode: Tobias holds a fish while walking next to Raphael through a landscape. The subject lent itself to use in ex-votos commissioned by mercantile families in order to protect a young son on a long-distance commercial journey (Hart 2006: 80–81).

Ligozzi’s drawing offers an unusually intimate close-up of the moment of Tobias’s actual encounter with the miraculous fish. The monstrous creature has attacked and frightened Tobias. Raphael directs him: ‘seize the fish and don’t let go’ (6:3). He further directs Tobias to cut open the fish, and to remove the heart and the gall, as they enjoy healing qualities. The details of this operation are displayed to us in considerable detail.

In this Ligozzi drawing, Tobias’s face turns towards Raphael for guidance and courage, while his hands grab, cut open, and pull at the inside of the fish. Towering above him, Raphael places one hand upon Tobias’s shoulder in a reassuring gesture.

If the popular Florentine iconography of Tobias and the Angel journeying through a landscape concerns safe journeys and prosperous returns, Ligozzi’s close-up of this occasion crystallizes the significance of the encounter with the monstrous fish at the river. It evokes the art of transforming fear into courage, danger into profit, crisis into opportunity: the Machiavellian subduing of Fortuna, the zeitgeist of early modern mercantile culture. Tobias seizes the moment and alters the course of future events.

Raphael’s reassuring gesture and imperative call to seize the fish, foreshadows his later reassuring ‘do not be afraid’ and the command ‘write what you have seen’ in Tobit 12:17.



Achenbach, Gertrude. 1943. ‘The Iconography of Tobias and the Angel in Florentine Paintings of the Renaissance’, Marsyas 3: 71–86

Argenziano, Raffaele. 2015. ‘I compagni di viaggio Tobias e Raffaele: alcune precisazioni sull’iconografia di Raffaele “arcangelo” come protettore e taumaturgo’, Micrologus 23: 463–85

Conigliello, Lucilla. 2005. Ligozzi (Milan: 5 Continents)

Eisenbichler, Konrad. 1998. The Boys of the Archangel Raphael: A Youth Confraternity in Florence, 1411–1785 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press)

Folds Mccullagh, Susan and Laura Gilles. 1997. ‘Jacopo Ligozzi, Tobias and the Angel Raphael, c. 1605’, in Italian Drawings Before 1600, Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Collection (Princeton: Princeton University Press)

Hart, Trevor. 2006. ‘Tobit in the Art of Florentine Renaissance’, in Studies in the Book of Tobit: A Multidisciplinary Approach, ed. by Mark Bredin, LSTS 55 (London: T&T Clark)



See full exhibition for Tobit 12

Tobit 12

Revised Standard Version

12 Tobit then called his son Tobiʹas and said to him, “My son, see to the wages of the man who went with you; and he must also be given more.” 2He replied, “Father, it would do me no harm to give him half of what I have brought back. 3For he has led me back to you safely, he cured my wife, he obtained the money for me, and he also healed you.” 4The old man said, “He deserves it.” 5So he called the angel and said to him, “Take half of all that you two have brought back.”

6 Then the angel called the two of them privately and said to them: “Praise God and give thanks to him; exalt him and give thanks to him in the presence of all the living for what he has done for you. It is good to praise God and to exalt his name, worthily declaring the works of God. Do not be slow to give him thanks. 7It is good to guard the secret of a king, but gloriously to reveal the works of God. Do good, and evil will not overtake you. 8Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than much with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to treasure up gold. 9For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of charity and of righteousness will have fulness of life; 10but those who commit sin are the enemies of their own lives.

11 “I will not conceal anything from you. I have said, ‘It is good to guard the secret of a king, but gloriously to reveal the works of God.’ 12And so, when you and your daughter-in-law Sarah prayed, I brought a reminder of your prayer before the Holy One; and when you buried the dead, I was likewise present with you. 13When you did not hesitate to rise and leave your dinner in order to go and lay out the dead, your good deed was not hidden from me, but I was with you. 14So now God sent me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah. 15I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One.”

16 They were both alarmed; and they fell upon their faces, for they were afraid. 17But he said to them, “Do not be afraid; you will be safe. But praise God for ever. 18For I did not come as a favor on my part, but by the will of our God. Therefore praise him for ever. 19All these days I merely appeared to you and did not eat or drink, but you were seeing a vision. 20And now give thanks to God, for I am ascending to him who sent me. Write in a book everything that has happened.” 21Then they stood up; but they saw him no more. 22So they confessed the great and wonderful works of God, and acknowledged that the angel of the Lord had appeared to them.