Yesterday, as part of morning worship, we had a quiz that included a round with angels in art... that gives me five images to share this week!
Tobias and The Angel, by Andrea del Vorrochio, is a 15th century altar piece, now displayed in the National Gallery in London.
The painting is inspired by a rather strange story from the book of Tobit, that expounds the healthgiving properties of fish gizzards!!
The young man [Tobias] went out and the angel went with him; and the dog came out with him and went along with them. So they both journeyed along, and when the first night overtook them they camped by the Tigris river. Then the young man went down to wash his feet in the Tigris river. Suddenly a large fish leapt up from the water and tried to swallow the young man’s foot, and he cried out. But the angel said to the young man, ‘Catch hold of the fish and hang on to it!’ So the young man grasped the fish and drew it up on the land. Then the angel said to him, ‘Cut open the fish and take out its gall, heart, and liver. Keep them with you, but throw away the intestines. For its gall, heart, and liver are useful as medicine.’ So after cutting open the fish the young man gathered together the gall, heart, and liver; then he roasted and ate some of the fish, and kept some to be salted.
The two continued on their way together until they were near Media. Then the young man questioned the angel and said to him, ‘Brother Azariah, what medicinal value is there in the fish’s heart and liver, and in the gall?’ He replied, ‘As for the fish’s heart and liver, you must burn them to make a smoke in the presence of a man or woman afflicted by a demon or evil spirit, and every affliction will flee away and never remain with that person any longer. And as for the gall, anoint a person’s eyes where white films have appeared on them; blow upon them, upon the white films, and the eyes will be healed.’
Whatever we may make of the story - and it is weird - the painting is worth spending time with, to enjoy the colours, to note how the young man's cloak emulates the wings of an angel, to see the dog trotting at the angel's feet, to wonder at the total lack of visual perspective, to wonder what any of it means...
What I love best, I think, is the way the two have linked arms, and the angel walks slightly ahead, drawing the young man onwards. There is a look of absolute trust in the face of the young man as he steps into the unknowable, unknown. I wonder who I, who we, trust like that?
Lead me Lord, lead me in thy righteousness, make thy way plain before my face.
For it is thou, Lord, thou Lord only, that maketh me dwell in safety.