An angel holding a fish, inspired by the Biblical story of Tobias and the Angel, India, Mughal, circa 1590-1600
5,000 - 7,000 GBP
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- watercolour with drawing on paper
ink with use of colours and gold on paper, laid down on an album page with blue borders of Khurasan style with coloured paper inserts
This drawing of an angel holding a large fish is inspired by the Biblical story of Tobias and the Angel (Book of Tobit, chapters 5-6). In the Biblical story, Tobias finds a huge fish in the River Tigris and is advised by the Archangel Raphael to catch it and pull it from the river. In the majority of European prints that would have reached Mughal India in the late sixteenth century and which were the sources for the present work, it is Tobias who carries the fish, whereas here the angel is holding the fish. However, there are several European works of the period that show a single figure of the Archangel Raphael holding a fish as a symbol of his identity, without the presence of Tobias. One such work is by the Spanish artist Francesco Ribalta (1565-1628). It is likely that a combination of these iconographic sources provided the inspiration for the present drawing. A well-known Mughal painting of circa 1590 of a peri-like angel holding a fish is in the Musée Guimet, Paris (no.3619, see Okada, Miniatures de l'Inde imperiale, Paris, 1989, pp.208-9, no.64), and a scene of three angels, one holding a fish, is in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (Leach 1995, vol.I, p.144). A further iconographic source that would probably have been apparent to Mughal artists was the well-known scene in Firdausi's Shahnameh in which Kai Ka'us rises in his flying machine. In illustrated copies of the Shahnameh this scene often includes an angel holding a fish (Leach 1995, vol.I, p.143).
With many thanks to Marcus Fraser for his contribution to this entry.