Fish imagery in art 9: Raphael's Miraculous Draught of Fishes

Abstract

Raphael (1483-1520) was the guiding genius of art in the High Renaissance period of Italy. His contemporaries included Leonardo, Bramante, Michelangelo, Giorgione, and Titian. Belief in their divinely-inspired genius caused the Renaissance artists to attempt artistic projects that were so ambitious they were almost impossible. Complex technical systems for foreshortening and perspective were developed to revive classical attitudes toward ideal physical beauty. The Miraculous Draught of Fishes is an example of Raphael’s technique. It is a huge (3.6 x 4 m), meticulously crafted painting in luminous color, created in 1515 and 1516. The painting shows Christ convincing two fishermen to become his disciples by causing their nets to be miraculously filled with fish (Luke 5: l-11). The dramatic action takes place in a natural setting, but the idealized, human figures are clearly the focus of the painting, reflecting the Renaissance view that the Earth was made for man. However, compared to earlier paintings of this scene by other artists, the attention paid to details of the natural world is impressive. The fish are realistic renditions of common Mediterranean fishes, not just religious symbols.

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