Pen and brown ink, touched with white gouache; framing lines in pen and brown ink
Support: Beige(1) laid paper
Sheet: 21.1 x 17.7 cm (8 5/16 x 6 15/16 in.)
Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1969.69
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.
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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