|Tobias and the Angel Raphael Studio of Andrea Verrocchio, c. 1470-75|
© National Gallery, London
In this story from the Biblical Apocrypha, young Tobias is sent by his blind father Tobit on a long journey from Nineveh to Media to collect some money. Unknowingly, he hires as his companion the angel Raphael. Instructed by the angel, the heart and liver saved from his adventure with the fish, have magical properties, which help Tobias to drive away the demon haunting Sarah, a kinsman's daughter, and win her as his bride. On his return home the fish-gall heals his father's eyes and Raphael the angel reveals himself.
The story treats the struggle with the fish - which was probably a crocodile - very matter of factly, and in the painting from Verrocchio's workshop it is shown as quite small. I have always liked the idea that
the guardian angel does not leap into the river to help Tobias, but shouts instructions at him from the bank, so that he is able to save himself and catch the giant 'fish'. This painting is a visual feast of colour, with its repeating patterns of curves and angles, a wonderful Renaissance image of Tobias in contemporary dress and an Italian landscape behind, accompanied by the winged Raphael, and Tobias' faithful dog. (Angel wings were a Christian convention derived from the winged Victory images of the classical world.) Although a workshop piece, it is thought that the young Leonardo painted the fish and the dog.