Holly Family with Raphael, Tobías and St. Jerome, The Madonna with a Fish

Alongside Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael was one of the three great painters of the Renaissance. While Leonardo was known for his use of wonderfully blurred outlines, or sfumato, and Michelangelo for the monumental scale of his works, Raphael stood out for having achieved “perfect beauty”. His Madonnas are superbly delicate.

This picture gets its name from the fish being held by the Young Tobias, a character from the Old Testament who, when travelling in the company of the Archangel Raphael, used the guts of a fish to cure his father’s blindness.

The purpose of the painting is to convey the same message as the Book of Tobias: true wisdom consists of keeping our faith in God, even in the most desperate situations. And let us not forget that the fish is also the symbol of Christ.

On the right of the Virgin Mary is an old man with a lion at his feet and a large book in his hand. These symbols indicate that this is St. Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin. This version of the Bible is known as the Vulgate, because it was written in Vulgar Latin in order to be easier to understand. The lion is a reference to the saint’s years in the desert as a hermit and anchorite. Tradition has it that the saint removed a thorn from the lion’s paw and tamed it, so that it became his symbol. From her regal position, the Virgin Mary seems to be holding onto the child, who is reaching out to touch the fish.

(c) (R) 2013, MUSMon com S.L.
Text (a) Catalina Serrano Romero
English translation (a) Thisbe Burns