The Archangel Raphael and Tobias1639 - 1640. Oil on canvas, 211 x 145 cm.
This painting shows the moment when, following an angel’s instructions, Tobias pulls out an enormous fish’s heart and entrails to cure his father’s blindness with them (Book of Tobit: VII, 15). The setting is a landscape with a flowing river that runs diagonally behind the figures. Three fifths of the canvas are occupied by the sky, beginning at the top with an intense blue and concluding at the horizon with a more reddish tone that imbues the composition with an air of poetic dreaminess unprecedented in Lorrain’s painting. John Smith (1837), Marcel Roethlisberger (1961) and all later critics have put forth multiple arguments for the idea that this painting was conceived as a companion to the Embarkation of Saint Paula Romana (P2254) and that the two faced the pair formed by Landscape with the Finding of Moses (P2253) and the Burial of Saint Serapia (P2252). Supporters of this hypothesis allege a long list of contrasts that supposedly constitute irrefutable proof of the wisdom of that association. Nonetheless, many more arguments can be made in favor of relating the two early Christian saints (Paula Romana and Serapia), on one hand, and the two Bible scenes (Tobias and Moses), on the other. This idea is further supported by the fact that the compositions mirror each other, so that the main elements of one painting find their equivalents in the other. Thus, the depictions of Tobias and Moses share several elements, including a similar placement of the figures involved in the narrative (on the same plane, close to the viewer), a river running diagonally across the composition, the presence of lesser elements that humanize the landscape (the tower and the bridge), a horizon at the same height, and finally, wooded areas on the ends. The main elements that define each composition are not present in Lorrain’s earlier or later works, with the exception of the ruins of the tower on the river’s left bank, which also appear in his Landscape with the Flight to Egypt (1639, Notre Dame, Ind., University Art Gallery; Roethlisberger 1961). Lorrain painted Raphael and Tobias on very few occasions, and never as he did here, with the child pulling out the fish’s entrails in search of a cure for his father’s illness. On later occasions, he treated this and other subjects (Agar and the Angel, Saint John the Baptist Among the Angels) in a more agreeable fashion -sometimes like an authentic pastoral landscape, which was much closer to his artistic sensibilities. Like his other paintings from the so-called second series for the Buen Retiro Palace, this one is recorded in a sketch in the Liber Veritatus (no. 50) that barely varies from the painting at the Museo del Prado. It bears an inscription indicating that it was commissioned by Philip IV. Despite some hesitancy in the Museo del Prado’s historic inventories, there is no reason whatsoever to doubt the attribution of these figures to Claude Lorrain.
The formidable campaign of arts acquisitions carried out by the Count-Duke of Olivares in the 1640s to decorate the vast spaces at Madrid’s Buen Retiro Palace included a very notable number of landscapes. Of these works -almost two hundred in all- we cannot determine how many were purchased in Flanders or Spain, nor which ones came from private collections or other Royal Seats, but thanks to the works at the Museo del Prado and documents found to date, we can establish with certainty that the Buen Retiro Palace was furnished with numerous landscapes painted for the occasion by artists active in Rome.
A series of at least twenty-five landscapes with anchorites and a dozen Italianate landscapes -large format works by different artists- were commissioned. Of the pieces that have survived, most are at the Museo del Prado.
Commissioned in Rome between 1633 and 1641, these landscape paintings from the Buen Retiro constituted an early anthology of this new painting from nature characterized by a new awareness of the effects of light and the atmosphere of the Roman countryside that would eventually spread through most of Europe, representing one of many aspects of classicism (Text drawn from Posada Kubissa, T.: Pintura holandesa en el Museo Nacional del Prado. Catálogo razonado, 2009, pp. 230-232; Capitelli, G. in Úbeda de los Cobos, A.: El Palacio del Rey Planeta. Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2005, p. 241).