Italian Paintings – Madonna Of The Fish

The Madonna of the Fish in the gallery at Madrid, is in Raphael’s most perfect style. The Virgin sits enthroned with the Christ child on her knee. On one side is St. Jerome kneeling by the Lion; he is holding a book. On the other side the archangel Raphael is presenting at the foot of the throne the young Tobias, whom he formerly guided to the River Tigris, and who bears the miraculous fish whose heart, liver and gall were to restore his father’s sight, and drive the demons from his bride. Tobias with his fish was an early type of baptism. The Angel Raphael leading To-bias always expresses protection, and especially protection to the young. The picture is believed to have been painted to commemorate the introduction of Tobit among the Canonical books of the Roman church. The Jews have always refused it a divine origin. St. Jerome translated the book of Tobit from Chaldaic into Latin, which explains his presence. The story of Tobias is told in the book of Tobit, one of the Apocryphal books of the Bible.

According to the old Hebrew legend, Tobias was the son of a very rich man by the name of Tobit, upon whom great misfortune had fallen. He and his family were taken captive by the Assyrians. He had lost all of his fortune and at last had become blind. Nothing was left him but his wife Sara and his son Tobias. His trouble was so great, he prayed constantly for death.

In the city of Ecbatane there lived a man named Raguel, with his wife Edna and his daughter Sara. Sara had been married seven times. The husbands were each killed by the evil spirit Asmodeus as soon as they were married to her. She was so unhappy because of this, she too prayed to die. Then God sent the archangel Raphael to take away the blindness of Tobit and the reproach of this unhappy woman.

Tobit had given ten talents in trust to a friend in Media. He was in great need of this money and resolved to send Tobias for it. He sent him out to search for a guide to take him there. As Tobias went out he met the arch-angel Raphael, who offered to go with him, but Tobias did not know he was an angel. He took him to his father, who arranged the matter of his wages. Tobit gave Tobias an order for the money, and directions for the journey, and they departed. That evening they lodged at a place close to the river Tigris. When Tobit went to the river to bathe, a fish leaped out at him. The angel told him to take the fish, kill it, and carefully preserve the heart, the liver, and the gall. This he did; then they roasted the fish and ate it. Tobias asked the angel the use of the parts he had kept. He told him that the heart and liver were able to cure any one who had an evil spirit, if a smoke were made of them before the person, and the gall would cure blindness from any one who had whiteness in the eyes. When they came near to the town of Rages, the angel said : “Brother, tonight we shall lodge with Raguel, thy cousin, who has a daughter Sara. I will speak for her that she may be given thee for a wife.” And he added that according to the laws she belonged to Tobias, and that as she was fair, and wise, he could marry her on their return. Tobias had heard of the untimely end of the seven husbands and did not look favorably on the proposition, and urged, as an excuse, that if he should die his father and mother would go in sorrow to their graves. The angel assured him that she was the wife intended for him by the Lord, and that as he came to the marriage chamber, he should make a smoke of the heart and liver of the fish and the evil spirit would return no more. They came to Ecbatane and met on the way Sara. She took them to the home of Raguel, her father, who rejoiced to see them and made a feast for them. Raphael then asked for the hand of Sara for Tobias. The story of the fate of the seven husbands was told them, but nothing daunted, they asked to have the marriage ceremony take place at once, which was done. Tobias did as the angel commanded him made the smoke with the heart and liver of the fish. When the evil spirit smelled the odor and saw the smoke he departed forever. The marriage feast was kept up fourteen days. While it was going on, Raphael went and collected the money for Tobit. When he returned he set out with Tobias and Sara to Nineveh. Raguel had given Sara half of his possessions, money, flocks, herds and servants. As they neared the city the angel said to Tobias : “Let us go ahead and prepare the house and take in thine hand the gall of the fish.” Tobias’ mother, Anna, was watching for them, and when she saw them, she told Tobit. Then the angel said to Tobias : “Your father will open his eyes. Anoint them with the gall of the fish, and the whiteness will fall away, and he shall see thee.” Tobias obeyed, and it was as the angel said, the sight of Tobit was restored to him. Then they all rejoiced and blessed God, and Tobias then told what had happened to him, and they went to meet Sara, and the servants, and all that he had brought with him. They feasted for seven days. Tobias wished to give his guide the half he possessed, but he would have none of it. He said : “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One. I was sent to heal Tobit and his daughter-in-law.” Then they were afraid and fell on their faces before him. He said: “Fear not, for it shall go well with you; praise God therefor.” He then vanished and was seen no more. All did go well with them ever after, and they never ceased praising God. After the death of Tobit and Anna, Tobias, Sara and their children went to live with Raguel. Tobias lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old, lived to hear of the destruction of Nineveh.

( Originally Published 1912 )

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