Fisheye

Matthias Stom, Tobias and the Angel, 1630/32, Oil on Canvas, 111×125 cm, Den Haag, Museum Bredius

The only religious painting mentioned in the Pranketing Room is directly related to the medical practice of the Countess. The inventory lists the subject of Tobias in the “Roome where the Chimney is”: “Ouer them lying on three wooden rackes two spitts & two racke staues of Iron aboue them two square Pictures, the one of Tobias.” It is striking that only one of the pictures hanging next to the large chimney is described by subject matter. The second painting might have been wisely undisclosed due to a distinctly Catholic topic, possibly a saint.

Of course, the thin entry alone does not allow to reconstruct exactly which painting of Tobias Lady Arundel would have chosen for the heart of her kitchen. However, due to the simultaneous stay of Matthias Stom (or Stomer) and Lady Arundel in Italy and its square format, this scene, one of only three paintings signed by the artist, is a very plausible candidate. Even though it was painted mostly in Italy, it ended up in the Netherlands, where Lady Arundel’s collection was dispersed after her death.

The story of Tobias in the book of Tobit is an example of divine revelations of medical secrets. Tobias is taught a secret recipe to cure his father’s blindness by Archangel Raphael. The Angel guides Tobias to prepare fish intestines as a medicine and apply them to his father’s eyes (6 Tobit 1:1–9). This passage of the Bible establishes a direct connection between divine revelation and medical knowledge. The painting thus places Lady Arundel’s medical practice in a religious context.

The topic of a cure for blindness can also be read as a reference to her special expertise in the field of ophthalmology. A particularly large number of the recipes in her collection deal with various conditions of the eyes, from sore eyes to bloodshot eyes, how to deal with blows and splinters, to vision problems from venous occlusion. Even though Lady Arundel did not explicitly set out to cure blindness, many of the conditions addressed by her remedies would lead to blindness if left unattended.

The sense of sight is the physiological requirement for viewing art. The subject of Tobias points to the importance of sight as well as the connection between medical and spiritual healing. The eyes and their health were of particular spiritual importance: They connected the body with the world, were the entrance way for images, for visions translated by rays of light, and therefore particularly susceptible to disturbances.



Cite this blog post
Jennifer Rabe (2022, February 19). Fisheye. Lady Arundel 1654–2054. Retrieved May 23, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/qpdx

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