Tobias and the Angel
Oil on canvas
53 ¾ x 43 inches
(136.5 x 109.2 cm)
Private Collection, New York City
This large painting depicts Tobias, the son of blind Tobit, with his companion and guardian, the Archangel Raphael. The tale of their adventures is told in the Book of Tobit, one of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha. In the present painting Tobias stands at the right, wearing a richly embroidered gold dress as he holds a basket containing a fish against his side. This relatively diminutive fish represents the “great fish” that leaped out of the Tigris River and that Raphael directed Tobias to catch and gut, preserving the heart, liver, and gall. The gall would cure his father Tobit’s blindness, and the burned heart and liver would drive the demons away from Sarah, Tobias’s future wife. Raphael, wearing a red cloak over an olive dress, stands to the left, raising an unguent jar with his right hand. His brilliant wings can be seen behind him – a visual accommodation for the viewer as in the biblical telling his identity is only revealed at the end of their journey.
Francesca Baldassari has written of the present painting (April 2016), noting that Tobias and the Angel,
“was one of the most beloved subjects in Florence from the time of Humanism and the Renaissance, due to the role of the Archangel Raphael as a protector of travelers and health, in those times of great economic activity and frequent travel, especially considering the predilection of the Medici to depict subjects related to healing, in recognition of the meaning of their family name.
It is clear that the faces of the protagonists are portraits, possibly two brothers, considering their undeniable physiognomic similarity. It is probable that the family that commissioned this painting sought to demonstrate its devotion to the Archangel, as it sought a good outcome for the voyage of the two youths.
The stylistic traits of the painting allow us to identify the author of this canvas as Francesco Curradi, one of the major figures of Florentine painting of the first half of the Seicento. The composition, recalling 16th-century taste, and the glowing depiction of the details of the clothing, derived from Jacopo Ligozzi, suggest that the painting should be placed relatively early in the long career of this prolific artist, whose work, while predominantly of devotional subjects, also includes portraits ofnotable quality (such as, the Portrait of a Youth in the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart) and mythological subjects (Narcissus, signed and dated 1622, and Erminia among the Shepherds, documented in 1633, both painted for the same patron, Cardinal Carlo de’Medici, and today located respectively in the Galleria Palatina in Florence and the Medici Villa of Petraia).
The hieratic arrangement of the biblical scene demonstrates the painter’s wish to create a pictorial scheme of clarity and easy comprehension, following the dictates of the Counter-Reformation, of which Curradi, was one of the most requested interpreters in Seicento Florence
One of the artist’s personal traits are his rendering of tapered hands which anticipate the softness of his style as it would be defined in the 1620s, and which varies only slightly, if one excludes a general reduction in color and material. Sometime in the 1630s, perhaps following a request from Pope Urban VIII, Curradi moved to Rome, where his altarpiece of St. Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi receiving the veil of the Virgin, remains in the Church of San Giovanni de’Fiorentini. According to tradition, this canvas, together with others sent by a Portuguese noble to his king, earned Curradi a knighthood of the Ordine di Cristo, a title that he included from that point on in several paintings.
Clear stylistic affinities exist between the present Tobias and the Angel and documented works by the artist: from the Coronation of the Virgin and Saints in the Collegiata di San Gimignano, to the St. Lawrence in the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena de’Pazzi in Florence (1608). The difficulty in ordering Curradi’s work chronologically does not permit a precise dating for the present painting, other than a prudent placement of the work in the first decades of the seventeenth century.”