Tobias and the Angel by Andrea del Verrocchio and workshop

Andrea del Verrocchio and workshop

Tobias and the Angel, c.1470–5, Tempera on wood, 83.6 x 66 cm, The National Gallery, London; Bought, 1867, NG781, Photo: © National Gallery, London / Art Resource, NY

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Earthly Presence

Commentary by

This panel does not depict a specific moment in the book of Tobit but offers a compressed version of 6:1–9.

Raphael shown with outstretched wings and a halo holds a box which we know contained the liver, heart, and gall of the fish, the cure for all the suffering narrated in Tobit.

Tobias, cast as a young Florentine, clutches a scroll inscribed Ricordo (memorandum)—a reference to the silver Tobit had deposited with Gabael in Media and the ostensible reason for his journey (4:20–21). Tobias also holds a string with a small fish at the end, hardly of a size that could threaten to swallow his foot as described in the text (6:2).

At their feet is a dog, a detail which is mentioned in passing in the text but is almost always included in images relating to it. The ground they are standing on is rocky but the path provides assurance that there is a way through—and indeed back—lending credence to Azariah’s insistence that Tobias should not worry (6:17).

Tobias and the Angel was a popular subject in Florentine devotional art between 1450 and 1480, a taste which can, in part, be attributed to a particular devotion to the Archangel Raphael. The panel was intended for private devotional use and Andrea del Verrocchio and workshop has adopted particular devices to engage the viewer—for example, depicting Tobias and Raphael in Florentine dress within an Italian landscape rather than in third-century Media.

Arguably, it is the evident tenderness between the two figures that makes the panel so spiritually compelling. We know from the verses that Tobias and his guide became swift companions (‘Tobias my friend’; 6:10) and this is suggested by the shared shapes of Tobias’s cloak and Raphael’s wings, their steps which have fallen in sync with one another, and most notably their interlinked arms. Tobias’s finger rests on Raphael’s wrist, a gesture which makes the angel seem tangible and present.

 

References

Covi, Dario. 2005. Andrea del Verrocchio Life and Work (Florence: Olschki)

Dunkerton, Jill et al. 1991. Giotto to Dürer: Early Renaissance Paintings at the National Gallery (New Haven: Yale University Press)

Hammond, Joseph. 2011. ‘The Cult and Representation of the Archangel Raphael in Sixteenth-Century Venice’, St Andrews Journal of Art History and Museum Studies, 15: 79–86)


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