This painting shows the archangel Raphael guiding the young Tobias and his dog through the countryside, an episode based on the book of Tobit. Clad in lavish attire, the boy is on his way to collect a debt that is owed to his blind father, Tobit. He carries a gutted fish on a string, while Raphael shows him the small, round box that contains its organs – ingredients for a salve to cure Tobit’s blindness.
This picture is exemplary of the collaborative nature of Verrocchio’s workshop. Its varying characteristics suggest that the master painted it with the help of several workshop assistants. Both the sculptural modelling of the figures’ delicate faces and the lavish detail of their garments are characteristic of Verrocchio himself, while the more economical execution of the landscape indicates another hand. It has been suggested that the lively dog and the fish – painted like a minute still life – may be the work of a young Leonardo da Vinci.
Paintings of Tobias and the Angel enjoyed great popularity in Florence between about 1450 and 1485. This was likely due to the popular cult of the Archangel Raphael, which was promoted by several confraternities (religious brotherhoods) dedicated to him. As the patron saints of travellers and healers, Raphael was invoked to provide safe passage for merchants travelling on business, or young boys running errands for their fathers, like Tobit – as many young Florentine apprentices would have done.
Every year, the National Gallery partners with organisations and audiences across the UK to ensure that everyone in Britain can engage with their national collection. The Masterpiece Tour 2021–23 is a partnership between the National Gallery, Oriel Davies, Newtown, The Beacon Museum, Whitehaven, and Carmarthenshire County Museum, who work together to select and display a painting from the National Gallery in exhibitions which offer new ways for audiences across the UK to experience the painting.