Have you ever wondered why paintings make us believe things our eyes don’t see? When you see the painting of Tobias and the Angel for the first time, you start to understand the tale in which the angel plays an important role.
Dating from 1475, Tobias and the Angel is an outstanding masterpiece from the workshop of the Italian Renaissance painter Andrea del Verrocchio, with notable contributions from painter Leonardo da Vinci. The painting is known for its exquisite precision and vivid colors, which are indicative of the artist’s technical brilliance. Its dramatic composition and refined details demonstrate the workshops’ adherence to the Renaissance principles of perspective, anatomy, and sculptural drapery.
There are many awe-inspiring fine details in the painting. The painting depicts Archangel Raphael, the patron saint of travelers and Tobias, a young boy traveling on behalf of his merchant father to collect a debt. This story originates from the Book of Tobit, which is a canonical text within the Roman Catholic and some Orthodox traditions. When the young Tobias was bathing in the Tigris River, a fish jumped out of the water. The Archangel Raphael told him to remove parts of the fish to make a cure for his father’s blindness. In the painting, one can see the angel’s hand holding a round container, which holds the gallbladder of the fish, used as the remedy for the father’s illness. The popularity of this story throughout Florence at this time can be seen in the abundance of different artworks on the subject.
Verrocchio, the author of this altar painting, was an excellent draughtsman. He was an exceptional sculptor, which also explains the extreme attention to detail in the painting. In the process of both sculpting and drawing, he observed real models in order to create specific details. For example, the beautiful face and modeling of Tobias’s head are very likely to be ascribed to one of his model drawings. One can also observe the similarity of the positioning and details between Tobias’s and Archangel Raphael’s hands. Their left hands are almost identical, and the pose of their arms is the same. Thus, one can assume that the author applied one of his model drawings here as well.
One can also sense how transparent some of the parts of the artwork are. When you have a close look at the dog or the rocks on the ground, you can clearly see the landscape behind it. The secret behind this effect is a technique that applies egg tempera, a mixture of dry pigments and an egg yolk. Time might have made the painting even more translucent than it was when first created. One can also see that the dog and the rocks were painted after the landscape was drawn. This theory is proposed as another clue that Verrocchio and his students probably worked together on the painting.
All in all, the painting is full of symbolism. The skillful use of color, light, and shadow adds depth and drama, creating a powerful visual narrative that is both beautiful and meaningful. It is a timeless work of art that continues to captivate and inspire viewers.
Although the story of Tobias and the Angel may be old, it is still very relevant in today’s world. It teaches us that no matter how hard times may seem, we can always call on our inner strength and courage to make it through. After all, a guardian angel may be closer than you think. The moral of the story is that no matter how daunting the odds are, with a little bit of persistence and faith, we can all achieve the seemingly impossible.
The artwork of Tobias and the Angel is currently on display in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London, where it was moved in 1867. Ever since, the painting has been the center of admiration of the most attentive and thoughtful observers.