A tale of morals and miracles

Agnes exhibit gives the viewer an artistic visual representation of an old Biblical story

In the exhibit Tobit: Miracles and Morals
Image by: Sam Koebrich
In the exhibit Tobit: Miracles and Morals

There’s a fine line between a substantial story line and aesthetic appeal in art.

Tobit: Miracles and Morals tends to drive on the narrative side of the road.

The exhibit, located in the Bader Gallery of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, is a collection of various artists’ works that depict different scenes from the ancient Hebrew text The Book of Tobit.

The text was the inspiration for the works of many Flemish and Dutch artists during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The text narrates the story of an honourable Jewish family, including Tobit, his wife Anna and their son Tobias, who were unjustly exiled from Israel.

They eventually redeem their respected positions in society with the help of the disguised Archangel Raphael, who is also a key subject in several of the paintings in the room.

This connection between an ethical lifestyle and the presence of divine miracles is prevalent throughout the exhibit, though it’s most evident in Paulus Lesire’s representational-style oil painting entitled, “Tobias Healing His Father.” It depicts the moment when Tobias, at the instruction of Raphael, miraculously restores his father’s eyesight.

While Tobias and Anna are admirably focused on Tobit’s recovery, the Archangel Raphael stares directly out at the viewer, demonstrating a sense of divine authority over Tobit’s healing. What is remarkable about the exhibit is that all the works appear to be character-driven. There’s a contemplative countenance in the subjects, displayed in their solemn facial expressions and their stooped posture.

While the pieces are undoubtedly impressive in technique, the artists’ desire to convey a story overpowers their aesthetic appeal.

I noted the variation in style and tone between the different mediums of the works, from the penciled sketches to the oil paintings, giving the exhibit an eclectic feel.

Most of the paintings are representational in style, while the etchings and engravings appear to be somewhat mythological.

The whimsical figures of the Tobit family are much more animated and wiry in form, which are distinctive traits of early Netherlandish artwork.

There are multiple depictions of the incident in the story of Tobit when his daughter Anna brings home a goat she was rewarded with.

The scene is depicted in several of the works as a moment of tension, as Tobit unreasonably accuses his wife of stealing it. However, in Jan van de Velde II’s etching and engraving entitled “Tobit and Anna with the Kid,” there’s a sense of humour taken towards the scene.

The couple’s emphatic expressions demonstrate more fatigue than anger, emphasizing the ridiculousness of

the incident.

There’s an obvious narrative throughout the exhibit, which connects the many works and focuses the attention of the observer.

The exhibit displays differing perspectives of several artists and demonstrates how the works can still remain cohesive.

In fact, this strengthens the significance of the narrative as a result.

Tobit: Miracles and Morals is on exhibit in the Bader Gallery of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre until Apr. 21.


Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Art Review, Bader Gallery, Tobit: Miracles and Morals

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