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The Archangel Raphael

( Originally Published 1898 )


THE Archangel Raphael is esteemed as the guardian angel of the human race. He especially protects the young and innocent, and guards pilgrims and travellers from harm. It was he who warned Adam of the danger of sin, and declared to him its dread consequences. Milton thus interprets the message:

"Be strong, live happy, and love! but first of all
Him, whom to love is to obey, and keep
His great command; take heed lest passion sway
Thy judgment to do aught, which else free-will
Would not admit ; thine, and of all thy sons
The weal or woe in thee is placed ; beware !"

That Raphael's language was benevolent and sympathetic, as imagined by the poet, appears in Adam's farewell to the angel:

" Since to part
Go, heavenly guest, ethereal messenger,

Sent from whose sovereign goodness I adore !
Gentle to me, and affable hath been
Thy condescension, and shall be honor'd ever
With grateful memory. Thou to mankind
Be good and friendly still, and oft return !"

Representations of St. Raphael are far less numerous than are those of St. Michael and St. Gabriel. They are always pleasing, and present him as a benign, sympathetic, and companionable friend to those whom he serves. His symbol is habitually a pilgrim's staff ; as a guardian he wears a sword, and has a small casket or vase, containing the " fishy charm " against evil spirits. He wears a pilgrim's dress, has sandals on his feet, and a pilgrim bottle or wallet hangs from his belt. His flowing hair is bound by a diadem, and his beautiful face expresses the benevolence of his character and mission.

Many chapels and some churches are dedicated to the Archangel Raphael, as the chief of celestial guardians, and in these are numerous pictures commemorating his benevolent deeds. The greater part of the representations of this arch-angel are so connected with the history of Tobias, that it is necessary to know his story, in order to enjoy or understand these pictures. I will give this beautiful Hebrew narrative as concisely as possible:

Tobit was a rich man, and just; and he and his wife, Sara, were carried into captivity by the Assyrians. He gave alms to all his people, lived justly, and ate not the bread of the Gentiles. His misfortunes, however, increased ; he had but his wife and his son, Tobias, left to him, when he became blind, and prayed for death.

At the same time a man named Raguel, who dwelt in Ecbatane, was afflicted with a daughter who was persecuted by an evil spirit. She had married seven husbands, and each one had been killed by the fiend, as soon as he entered the bridal chamber. The maiden was accused of these murders, and, like Tobit, she prayed for death.

God then sent the Archangel Raphael to cure the blindness of Tobit, and take away the reproach of the unhappy daughter of Raguel of Ecbatane.

When they came near Ecbatane, they met Sara, and she led them to her parents, who rejoiced to see them, and wept when they heard of the blindness of Tobit. While the servants of Raguel prepared a supper, Tobias said to the angel, " Speak of those things of which thou didst talk, and let this business be despatched." Then Raphael asked Raguel to give Sara to Tobias ; but the father was sore distressed, and told of the death of the seven who had already married her; but as Sara belonged to Tobias by the law of Moses, his request could not be denied, and before they did eat together, Raguel joined their hands, and blessed them.

Then the marriage chamber was pre-pared, and the maiden wept ; but her mother comforted her, and when Tobias entered and made the smoke as the angel had directed, the evil spirit fled. Tobias and Sara knelt in thankfulness, and To-bias prayed as Raphael had told him, and Sara said, " Amen."

In the morning Raguel dug a grave, for he wished to bury Tobias quickly, that no one should know what had happened ; but when he sent to see if he were dead, it was found that the young husband was quietly sleeping. Then there was great rejoicing, and a wedding feast was made, which lasted fourteen days. Meanwhile, Raphael went to Gabael and received from him the ten talents, and when the feast ended, the angel conducted Tobias and Sara to Tobit, and Raguel bestowed on Sara half his wealth.

As they approached Nineveh, Raphael said to Tobias, " Let us haste before thy wife, to prepare the house: and take thou the gall of the fish." The mother of Tobias was watching for his return, and was greatly alarmed at his long absence. When she saw him with his guide, and the little dog which he had taken away, she ran to Tobit with the news, and they rejoiced greatly. Raphael now said to Tobias, " I know that thy father will open his eyes ; therefore anoint them with the gall, and being pricked therewith, he shall rub them, and the whiteness shall fall away, and he shall see thee." And so it was, and Tobit was blind no more, and they all rejoiced and blessed God.

Then Tobias recounted all that had happened, and his parents went out with him to meet his wife, and her servants, and cattle, and all she had brought with her. And the people were filled with wonder to see that Tobit was blind no more, and they rejoiced greatly with him during seven days when he kept a feast.

Tobit bade his son to call his guide and give him more than the wages that had been named. And Tobias wished to give the angel half of all he had brought back with him, and Tobit said, " It is due unto him." But when Raphael knew their intentions he commanded them to glorify God for all his goodness, and told Tobit that his, goodness and sorrows and those of the daughter of Raguel had been known in heaven, and God had sent him to heal all these troubles ; and added, " I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and go in and out before the glory of the Holy One."

Our illustration after the picture of Giovanni Biliverti in the Pitti Gallery, Florence, places before us the scene, when, refusing reward, the Archangel declared himself. The beauty of the angel, the affectionate enthusiasm of Tobias, and the sincere and reverent gratitude of the old Tobit are wonderfully portrayed, while the young wife and the aged mother in the background complete the group of those who have been de-livered from their sorrows by the messenger of the Most High.

From the time when the angel left them Tobit and Raguel prospered, and after Tobit and Sara died, Tobias re-moved to Ecbatane and inherited the wealth of Raguel ; he lived with honor to be an hundred and seven and twenty years old, and to hear of the destruction of Nineveh.

Milton thus refers to the story of Tobias :

" The affable archangel
Raphael ; the sociable spirit that design'd
To travel with Tobias, and secured
His marriage with the seven times wedded maid."

Raphael is frequently represented with-out wings when leading Tobias, who — in order to emphasize the contrast between an angel and a mortal —is made very small, and is thus manifestly out of keeping with the story. When the wings appear there is no reason for dwarfing Tobias, and the picture is far more satisfactory. It is not difficult to discern that if the story of Tobias is considered as an allegory, the young man personates the Christian, guided and guarded through life by God's mercy.

There is, in Verona, in the Church of St. Euphemia, a most impressive chapel which was decorated with pictures illustrating the story of Tobias, by Carotto, a pupil of Mantegna, who seems to have painted more in the manner of Leonardo than in that of his master.

Various incidents of the story are effectively pictured, but the famous altar-piece, the greatest work by Carotto, is the most important of the number. It represents the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, — three exquisite wingless figures, — the latter being in the centre, and the only one having an aureole. He is leading Tobias, and looking down at the youth with an expression of tenderness.

St. Michael is on the right ; one hand rests on his great sword, while with the other he lifts his crimson robe. His countenance, serious and indomitable in expression, fitly indicates the characteristics that his titles imply. He is the Lord of Souls and the Angel of Judgment, so far as human imagination can picture so exalted a celestial being.

St. Gabriel, on the left, holding a lily, and gazing heavenward in adoration, is a beautiful, angelic figure, far less powerful than the other archangels, and quite in harmony with his office.

The impression on my mind, made by this picture, is that Gabriel realizes that his blessed office has been fulfilled, his active work is done, and adoration is now his duty and his joy; but Michael and Raphael have still their great missions to perfect ; they are still battling against evil, and guiding men in the paths of righteousness.

Carotto was a native of Verona, and his pictures are rarely seen elsewhere. His color is warm and well blended, while his drawing is severe. It is said that he was but twenty-five years old when he decorated the Chapel of St. Raphael, in 1495. He was of a quick wit, and when told that the legs of his angels were too slender, he instantly replied, " Then they will fly the easier."

A very famous and wonderful picture of the three archangels with Tobias, by Botticelli, is in the Academy of Florence. The angels of this artist are frequently criticised for a certain stiffness, but their beautiful faces more than redeem any fault in their figures, and have a sweetness and depth of expression that appeals to the heart and makes one forget less important details.

A picture of St. Raphael leading Tobias, in the Church of St. Marziale in Venice, is said to be the earliest remaining work by Titian. For this reason it is most interesting, but it is certainly not so beautiful as that of Carotto, nor as that of Raphael, called the Madonna del Pesce,—the Madonna of the Fish, in the Madrid Gallery, in which the master pictures the archangel whose name he bore.

Of this last picture Passavant says, " Here Christian poetry has found its highest expression ; for it is poetry which touches all nations the most deeply, and beauty alone can give an idea of divinity."

In the famous Madonna del Pesce, the Virgin is seated on a throne with the child ; the young Tobias, holding a fish in his hand, and led by the Archangel Raphael, comes to implore Jesus to cure his father's blindness. The Infant Saviour looks at Tobias, while his hand is on an open book which St. Jerome holds before him ; the symbolic lion crouches at the feet of the saint. The background of the picture is principally formed by a curtain, but on the right a small opening of sky is seen.

The whole picture is executed in the best style of the artist's mature power, while it is full of the fervent piety of his earlier works. The Virgin is the ideal of purity and loveliness; the child is radiant with divine beauty; the angel is celestial in his bearing and his countenance, while the head of the reverend saint is grand and noble in expression.

Raphael's Madonnas sometimes seem to be but simple domestic women, gifted with beauty; in them no trace of a mystical or spiritual nature appears ; but the Madonna del Pesce, like the Madonna di San Sisto, and the Madonna di Fuligno, justifies the eulogy of Vasari, when he says, " Raphael has shown all the beauty which can be imagined in the expression of a Virgin; in the eyes there is modesty, on the brow there shines honor, the nose is of a very graceful character, the mouth betokens sweetness and excellence." The color of the Madonna del Pesce is admirably clear and harmonious, even for this great master.

This Madonna was originally painted for the Church of San Domenico Maggiore, at Naples, in which church a chapel had been erected as an especial place of worship for the numerous Neapolitans who suffer from diseases of the eye ; it was not, however, permitted to serve its intended purpose, and has had an interesting history.

It is said that the Duke of Medina, when Viceroy of Naples, took the picture from the Dominicans without the consent of the government, and when the prior complained to the Pope, Medina had him escorted to the frontier by fifty horsemen, and expelled from the kingdom. In 1644 the Duke took the Virgin with the Fish to Spain, and Philip IV. placed it in the Escurial. In 1813, when the French were compelled to leave Spain, they took this picture, with many others, to Paris.

It was painted on a panel and was in bad condition, and Bonnemaison was commissioned to transfer it to canvas. This work was not completed in 1815, when other pictures which had been taken from Spain were returned, and this Madonna remained in France until 1822. Naturally, it must have lost something of its original excellence, but it still holds a place of honor in the wonderful Italian Gallery of the Madrid Museum; it is a rival of the famous Dresden Madonna --di San Sisto — in the regard of many connoisseurs in art.

The various scenes from the story of Raphael' and Tobias have been represented in the works of artists of all nations. Rembrandt four times painted the parting of Tobias from his father and mother, and several other incidents in the story. His picture in the Louvre, of the departure of the Archangel, is remarkable for its spirited action. As the angel ascends, flying through the air, he seems to part the clouds as a strong swimmer passes through the breakers of the sea.

There have been many curious conceits introduced into some of the early religious pictures, and I have seen two instances in which little seraphim and angels are perched on trees, near the Virgin and Holy Child. The idea seems to be that these " Birds of God"— as Dante calls the angels — are making music and singing for the Divine Infant, some of them also praying for his solace.

Occasionally a series of pictures called the Acts of the Holy Angels has been painted. It consists of eleven strictly Scriptural subjects, usually as follows, but varied in some instances by the introduction of other motives of the same character, as, for example, the angel appearing to Hagar and to Elijah :

I. The Fall of Lucifer.
II. The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
III. The Visit of Three Angels to Abraham.
IV. The Angel Preventing the Sacrifice of Isaac.
V. The Angel Wrestling with Jacob.
VI. Jacob's Dream.
VII. The Deliverance of the Three Children from the Fiery Furnace.
VIII The Angel Slays the Host of Sennacherib.
IX. The Angel Protects Tobias.
X. The Punishment of Heliodorus.
XI. The Annunciation to the Virgin.

I have already said that of the seven archangels to whom Milton refers, when he says :

" The Seven
Who in God's presence, nearest to his throne,
Stand ready at command,"

but three are recognized by the Christian Church ; and when three archangels are seen together, they are Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. In the Greek Church this representation is regarded as typical of the military, civil, and religious power, and, accordingly, the costumes indicate a soldier, a prince, and a priest.

But Uriel has not been entirely ignored, 'wen by the Christian Church, and an early tradition teaches that this archangel, and not Christ, accompanied the two disciples on their way to Emmaus. In the book of Esdras we read, " The angel that was sent unto me, whose name was Uriel." His office was that of interpreter of judgments and prophecies, which Mil-ton recognizes thus :

"Uriel, for thou of those Seven Spirits that stand
In sight of God's high throne, gloriously bright,
The first art wont his great authentic will
Interpreter through highest heaven to bring."

In several ancient churches four arch-angels are represented in the architectural decoration. An example in which they are very splendid is that in the mosaics above the choir arch in the Cathedral of Monreale, Palermo. These colossal, armed figures are impressive, not only from their size, but also because of their apparent realization of their illustrious rank in the order of created beings.

More frequently the four archangels are so represented as to appear to sustain the roof, or vault, in churches where the figure of Christ, or his symbol, the Lamb, is pictured as the central decoration. These are clearly intended to personate the four "who sustain the throne of God." Their symbols are sceptres or lances; at times they stand erect, like faithful, watchful guardians ; again with arms outstretched they seem to uphold the vault on which Christ is portrayed.

The representations of three archangels are more numerous than the above, and are variously treated. In some ancient pictures they have no wings, and appear like men of princely rank and noble character. I have seen the visitors of Abraham thus represented, which accords with the Hebrew idea of angels at the period when Abraham was thus honored ; for, as I have mentioned, it was not until after the captivity, when the Egyptian custom of giving wings to their representations of messengers had been observed, that the cherubim and seraphim covered the mercy-seat with their wings.

One of the best known and most beautiful pictures of these angelic visitors is that by Raphael in the fourth arcade of the Loggie of the Vatican.

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