Raphael is frequently represented without wings when leading Tobias, who — in order to emphasize the contrast between an angel and a mortal — is made very small, and is thus manifestly out of keeping with the story. When the wings appear there is no reason for dwarfing Tobias, and the picture is far more satisfactory. It is not difficult to discern that if the story of Tobias is considered as an allegory, the young man personates the Christian, guided and guarded through life by God’s mercy.
There is, in Verona, in the Church of St. Euphemia, a most impressive chapel which was decorated with pictures illustrating the story of Tobias, by Giovanni Francesco Caroto, a pupil of Mantegna, who seems to have painted more in the manner of Leonardo than in that of his master.
Various incidents of the story are effectively pictured, but the famous altar-piece, the greatest work by Caroto, is the most important of the number. It represents the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, — three exquisite wingless figures, — the latter being in the centre, and the only one having an aureole. He is leading Tobias, and looking down at the youth with an expression of tenderness.
St. Michael is on the right; one hand rests on his great sword, while with the other he lifts his crimson robe. His countenance, serious and indomitable in expression, fitly indicates the characteristics that his titles imply. He is the Lord of Souls and the Angel of Judgment, so far as human imagination can picture so exalted a celestial being.
St. Gabriel, on the left, holding a lily, and gazing heavenward in adoration, is a beautiful, angelic figure, far less powerful than the other archangels, and quite in harmony with his office.
The impression made by this picture, is that Gabriel realizes that his blessed office has been fulfilled, his active work is done, and adoration is now his duty and his joy; but Michael and Raphael have still their great missions to perfect ; they are still battling against evil, and guiding men in the paths of righteousness.
Caroto was a native of Verona, and his pictures are rarely seen elsewhere. His color is warm and well blended, while his drawing is severe. It is said that he was but twenty-five years old when he decorated the Chapel of St. Raphael, in 1495. He was of a quick wit, and when told that the legs of his angels were too slender, he instantly replied, ” Then they will fly the easier.”
Tobias and the three Archangels
by Sandro Botticelli
The Archangel Raphael
from a picture of Tobias and the three Archangels
by Sandro Botticelli
A very famous and wonderful picture of the three archangels with Tobias, by Botticelli, is in the Academy of Florence. The angels of this artist are frequently criticized for a certain stiffness, but their beautiful faces more than redeem any fault in their figures, and have a sweetness and depth of expression that appeals to the heart and makes one forget less important details.
Archangel Raphael and Tobias by Titian
A picture of St. Raphael leading Tobias, in the Church of St. Marziale in Venice, is said to be the earliest remaining work by Titian. For this reason it is most interesting, but it is certainly not so beautiful as that of Caroto, nor as that of Raphael, called the Madonna del Pesce, — the Madonna of the Fish, — in the Madrid Gallery, in which the master pictures the archangel whose name he bore.
Madonna del Pesce (Madonna of the Fish) by Raphael
Of this last picture Passavant says, “Here Christian poetry has found its highest expression; for it is poetry which touches all nations the most deeply, and beauty alone can give an idea of divinity.”
In the famous Madonna del Pesce, the Virgin is seated on a throne with the child; the young Tobias, holding a fish in his hand, and led by the Archangel Raphael, comes to implore Jesus to cure his father’s blindness. The Infant Saviour looks at Tobias, while his hand is on an open book which St. Jerome holds before him; the symbolic lion crouches at the feet of the saint. The background of the picture is principally formed by a curtain, but on the right a small opening of sky is seen.
The whole picture is executed in the best style of the artist’s mature power, while it is full of the fervent piety of his earlier works. The Virgin is the ideal of purity and loveliness ; the child is radiant with divine beauty ; the angel is celestial in his bearing and his countenance, while the head of the reverend saint is grand and noble in expression.
Raphael’s Madonnas sometimes seem to be but simple domestic women, gifted with beauty; in them no trace of a mystical or spiritual nature appears; but the Madonna del Pesce, like the Madonna di San Sisto, and the Madonna di Fuligno, justifies the eulogy of Vasari, when he says, “Raphael has shown all the beauty which can be imagined in the expression of a Virgin; in the eyes there is modesty, on the brow there shines honor, the nose is of a very graceful character, the mouth betokens sweetness and excellence.” The color of the Madonna del Pesce is admirably clear and harmonious, even for this great master.
This Madonna was originally painted for the Church of San Domenico Maggiore, at Naples, in which church a chapel had been erected as an especial place of worship for the numerous Neapolitans who suffer from diseases of the eye; it was not, however, permitted to serve its intended purpose, and has had an interesting history.
It is said that the Duke of Medina, when Viceroy of Naples, took the pic- ture from the Dominicans without the consent of the government, and when the prior complained to the Pope,
Medina had him escorted to the frontier by fifty horsemen, and expelled from the kingdom. In 1644 the Duke took the Virgin with the Fish to Spain, and Philip IV. placed it in the Escurial. In 18 13, when the French were compelled to leave Spain, they took this picture, with many others, to Paris.
It was painted on a panel and was in bad condition, and Bonnemaison was commissioned to transfer it to canvas. This work was not completed in 1815, when other pictures which had been taken from Spain were returned, and this Madonna remained in France until 1822. Naturally, it must have lost something of its original excellence, but it still holds a place of honor in the wonderful Italian Gallery of the Madrid Museum; it is a rival of the famous Dresden Madonna — di San Sisto — in the regard of many connoisseurs in art.
Archangel Raphael Leaving Tobias by Rembrandt
The various scenes from the story of Raphael and Tobias have been represented in the works of artists of all nations. Rembrandt four times painted the parting of Tobias from his father and mother, and several other incidents in the story. His picture in the Louvre, of the departure of the Archangel, is remarkable for its spirited action. As the angel ascends, flying through the air, he seems to part the clouds as a strong swimmer passes through the breakers of the sea.
Source: Clement, Clara Erskine. Angels in Art. Boston: L. C. Page and Company, 1898.