The Miraculous Draught of Fishes

Keywords: MiraculousDraughtFishes

Work Overview

Miraculous Draught of Fishes
Tempera on paper, mounted on canvas, 360 x 400 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The miraculous catch of fish or more traditionally the Miraculous Draught of Fish/es, is either of two miracles attributed to Jesus in the Canonical gospels. The miracles are reported as taking place years apart from each other, but in both miracles apostles are fishing unsuccessfully in the Sea of Galilee when Jesus tells them to try one more cast of the net, at which they are rewarded with a great catch (or "draught", as in "haul" or "weight"). Either is thus sometimes called a "miraculous draught of fish".

By a miracle, one of the boats is suddenly full of fish, and the sailors in the other are pulling a full net out of the water. Jesus is sitting in the boat with Peter, asking him to give up being a fisherman and become a disciple.

A scientific examination using infra-red light has proved this cartoon to be by Raphael himself. Detailed underdrawings were found beneath the layer of paint, which are recognizably by Raphael's sure hand. The drop of paint running vertically down the cartoon shows that it was hung up for painting.

The scene The Miraculous Draught of Fishes is unique not merely for changing the iconography of tapestry weaving. Dawn is breaking over the lake, birds fly out from the depths of the picture and pass over the fishermen. These are powerfully built men dressed in simple shirts or tunics, and we can see their reflections in the water. An atmospheric light fills the whole composition. The arm of one of the fisherman extends into the depths of the picture and is shown 'contre jour', one side catching the red glow of the dawn. Glowing highlights accentuate the garments and model the muscular bodies. These painterly effects presented a great challenge to the tapestry weavers. In particular, the shirt of the Disciple who is so amazed by the miracle that he has jumped up in the boat in utter bewilderment tested the skills and resources of the Brussels weavers to their limits. Here, Raphael painted highlights shading into yellow together with bluish-gray shadows on a green half tint shot through with orange.

Pope Leo X commissions Raphael to design ten draperies for the lower parts of the walls of the Sistine Chapel. In 1515-16 Raphael creates the cartoons for the wool and silk draperies to be manufactured in Pieter van Aelst's workshop in Brussels. Seven cartoons survive today, and are kept in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Four draperies show scenes from the life of Peter, the other six of Paul's.

This cartoon shows the Lake of Gennesaret, better known as Lake Tiberias or the Sea of Galilee. Peter, still known as Simon at the time, has been fishing all night, but has caught nothing. Jesus asks Peter if he can address a crowd from his boat. Afterwards Jesus tells Peter to throw out his nets, which he does. When he hauls them back in, he is stunned to find them full of fish. Peter immediately joins Jesus, soon after followed by his mates James and John.

In the Gospel of Luke (Luke 5:1–11),[1] the first miraculous catch of fish takes place early in the ministry of Jesus and results in Peter as well as James and John, the sons of Zebedee, joining Jesus vocationally as disciples.[2][3][4]

The second miraculous catch of fish is also called the "miraculous catch of 153 fish," and seems to recall the first catch. It is reported in the last chapter of the Gospel of John (John 21:1–14)[5] and takes place after the Resurrection of Jesus.[6][7][8][9]

In Christian art, the two miracles are distinguished by the fact that in the first miracle Jesus is shown sitting in the boat with Peter, while in the second miracle he is standing on the shore.

This painting, which came to light in 1989, is a major addition to the work of Jacopo Bassano. One of the four leading mid–to–late 16th–century Venetian painters, Jacopo is less well–known than are his contemporaries Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto. Only with the exhibition of his work in his native town of Bassano del Grappa in 1992 did the artist finally get the recognition he deserves. Aside from the quality and variety of his production, Bassano had the most extraordinary development of any 16th–century Venetian master except Titian. After modest beginnings, Bassano's work exploded into greatness with a series of pictures dating from the 1540s, which demonstrated his true measure as an artist. He overcame his provincial isolation and kept abreast of artistic trends by studying prints by or after other masters such as Raphael. Bassano's mannerist compositions of the 1540s and 1550s, with their rich color and animated figures, gave way to the expressive lighting and more genre–like character of the works of the 1560s. Thereafter, Bassano's art increasingly emphasized figures of peasants and their animals. With their dark tonality, flickering brushwork, and somber mood, the best of his late pictures approach Rembrandt.

As we learn from the painter's account book, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes was ordered in April 1545 by the Venetian governor of Bassano, Pietro Pizzamano. Returning to Venice later that same year, the patron took his picture with him, where, in 1547, Titian copied it for the background of an altarpiece he painted. In The Miraculous Draught of Fishes Jacopo typically drew on a print source for the composition—Ugo da Carpi's chiaroscuro woodcut of the same subject. The print in turn reproduces (in reverse) Raphael's great tapestry cartoon of The Miraculous Draught of Fishes of c. 1515, which, with the other cartoons in the series, is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Though relying here, as elsewhere, on a visual source, Jacopo nevertheless transformed the print he took as a point of departure. The aesthetic appeal of The Miraculous Draught of Fishes lies in the way the brilliant hues of rose red, ocher, and green are set off against the broad expanse of blue water. Jacopo's colorful tableau, extending across the width of the canvas, has an almost vertiginous effect, in which the play of gestures and expressions of Christ, Peter, and Andrew on the left contrasts with the denser grouping of Zebedee and his sons James and John on the right. Uniting the two groups of apostles is the dramatic form of Andrew's billowing cape, a signature motif of the artist. Bassano further enlivened the composition through the careful observation of nature, reflected in Zebedee's oaring, the fish struggling in the net, and the view of his native town in the upper right.

A full-scale drawing, known as a cartoon, for the tapestry of The Miraculous Draft of Fishes, commissioned by Pope Leo X for the Sistine Chapel. The cartoon shows two boats on the water. On the left Christ is seated, with the Apostles Peter and Andrew in astonishment before him. Their boat is full of fish. The second boat shows two fishermen hauling in their nets full of fish, while another steers the boat. In the foreground is a group of birds. In the distance on the right is the shore with crowds and buildings.