From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Leonardo da Vinci: His angelic side

(Tobias and the Angel)
At the age of 14, Leonardo da Vinci apprenticed with the famed artist, Andrea del Verrocchio.  It is generally accepted that Leonardo painted some of Verrocchio’s Baptism of Christ.  The biographer Vasari even said that Leonardo’s contribution was so superior to the rest of this painting that Verrocchio afterwards vowed to never pick up a paintbrush again (indeed, Verrocchio was mostly known for sculpture after that).

Wikipedia reports that Leonardo may have also painted portions of Verrocchio’s Tobias and the Angel (perhaps the fish and/or the dog).  If so, it might be the earliest extant example of a painting partially done by Leonardo, and can be viewed today in London’s National Gallery.  What’s especially interesting is that Leonardo is also said to be the model for the Archangel Raphael in this painting.

A cursory description of this painting might sound to the uninitiated like the beginning of a corny joke.  (So the Archangel Raphael is walking down the road with a man, a fish, and a dog…)  Many are not as familiar with this (sometimes) biblical tale from the Book of Tobit because only the Catholic and Orthodox Churches regularly include it in their canons.  The Church of England considers it part of the Apocrypha - and the Protestant Christian Church considers it to be a useful text, but not one that is divinely inspired.  Ancient Jews did not include it as part of the Tanakh, but it was included within the Greek Septuagint.  Aramaic and Hebrew fragments of it were found within the Dead Sea Scrolls.

This Book of Tobit tells the story of a righteous Israelite named Tobit, his son named Tobias, and a damsel in spiritual distress named Sarah.  Tobit is praying to die because of blindness incurred during the course of his noble service to mankind.  Sarah is also praying to die because of repeated abuse from Asmodeus (king of demons).  Who will somehow save them both?  Tobias, of course – with a little help from the fish and dog – and a lot of help from the Archangel Raphael. 

Wikipedia reports that this story is a source of wisdom concerning prayer, fasting, charity, marriage, reverence for the dead, intercession of angels, and filial piety.  Perhaps that is why Verrocchio and the young Leonardo were determined to highlight it within their own artistic canon.


Copyright April 15, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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