Tobias Healing His Father's Blindness

Rembrandtc. 1640-45

The Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art
Cleveland, United States

This drawing is a prime example of the Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn's innovative approach to biblical narrative, in which he often humanized traditional pictorial formulas through the inclusion of observed details from everyday life. It depicts the climactic moment of the Book of Tobit, an apocryphal book of the Old Testament, in which, instructed by the archangel Raphael, Tobias heals his father Tobit's blindness by rubbing his eyes with fish gall. With spontaneity, a deft hand, and deceptive simplicity in his mark-making, Rembrandt depicts an intimate family scene including the archangel, Tobias, Hannah, and Sarah around a seated Tobit. Hannah’s spectacles, a unique detail among images of the scene created by Rembrandt and his circle, further thematizes sight. Rembrandt’s most innovative addition to the story centers on Tobias, who concentrates intensely to use a scalpel, rather than fish gall, to perform a cataract operation on his father’s left eye. Cataract surgery was a new procedure pioneered in Amsterdam in 1635 by Dr. Job Janszoon van Meekren, and Rembrandt may have witnessed the doctor perform it.

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  • Title: Tobias Healing His Father's Blindness
  • Creator: Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669)
  • Date Created: c. 1640-45
  • Physical Dimensions: Sheet: 21.1 x 17.7 cm (8 5/16 x 6 15/16 in.)
  • Provenance: Ignace-Joseph de Claussin, Paris and London, 1766-1844 (Lugt 485, not stamped); his sale, Batignolles, Paris, 2 December 1844, lot 53 ("Tobie recouvrant la vue") to Van Os., George Jacob Johan van Os, Paris and Amsterdam, 1782-1861; his sale, Roussel et Defer, Paris, 20-22 January, 1851, lot 179 ("Tobie recouvrant la vue"), Collection Defer-Dumesnil, Pierre Defer (1798-1870) and Henri Dumesnil (1823-1898), Paris (Lugt 739); his sale, Drouot, Paris, 10-12 May, 1900, lot 84) to Reinach, Joseph Reinach, Paris, 1856-1921., by descent to Madame Pierre Goujon, daughter of Joseph Reinach, Paris, with Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
  • Type: Drawing
  • Rights: CC0
  • External Link: https://clevelandart.org/art/1969.69
  • Medium: Pen and brown ink, touched with white gouache; framing lines in pen and brown ink
  • Inscriptions: verso, upper center, in graphite: -13 [crossed out]; upper right, in black chalk: rembrant; upper right, in brown ink: D; upper center, in brown ink: [15-50?] / Tobias; upper left, in brown ink: 9 [sideways]; lower left, in brown ink: [illegible, cropped]; lower left, in brown ink: No 2910; lower left, in brown ink: Rembrandt; lower right, in brown ink: -d[l?]-13 [upside down]
  • Fun Fact: The seated figure in this drawing is receiving cataract surgery on his left eye, a procedure pioneered in Amsterdam in 1635 by Dr. Job Janszoon van Meekren.
  • Department: Drawings
  • Culture: Netherlands, 17th century
  • Credit Line: Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund
  • Collection: DR - Dutch
  • Accession Number: 1969.69

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