Italian School, 17th Century, after Elsheimer
Tobias and the Angel
oil on panel
5 x 7 ⅝ inches
12.8 x 19.5 cm
The composition depicted in this painting on panel derives from Adam Elsheimer’s so called ‘Small Tobias‘ in the Historisches Museum, Frankfurt (inv. no. B 789). According to the book of Tobit, Tobias journeyed from Nineveh to Medea with his guardian the archangel Raphael and his little dog. While washing in the river Tigris he was attacked by a great fish but, guided by the angel, he pulled it out of the water and removed its heart, liver and gall. These he used to exorcise a devil bewitching his wife and to cure his father’s blindness. The archangel Raphael was historically seen as the protector of travellers, especially young ones. The frogs on the path beyond the stepping stones are symbols of licentiousness and evil, hinting at the perils of the journey and the sinful world through which the participants travel.
Adam Elsheimer (1568-1610) was born in Frankfurt but spent the bulk of his short working career in Italy, arriving in Rome around 1600 after a brief sojourn in Venice. Although he produced a very limited number of paintings, almost all of them small scale ‘cabinet paintings’ on copper, Elsheimer had a strong influence on the development of early Baroque Realism. His intimate, intense figure and landscape style was much admired by Rubens when he was in Rome.
Dr. Tico Seifert proposed that the present work could be by a Northern artist, given the style and panel support. While clearly a close homage to Elsheimer’s Small Tobias, he points out that the color palette of the present panel differs significantly from the original, which suggests it was likely modelled on a print after the original copper. Elsheimer’s Small Tobias became widely known through an engraving by Hendrick Goudt published in 1608, but in his view, the present panel is likely made after another rarer etching by an anonymous 17th-century Italian artist , evident in the similarity between the shapes of the trees, the angel’s drapery, the figures in the background, and most compellingly, the single bird directly above the tree framing the angel, which does not occur in any other known version of this composition. ❖
Private collection, Paris