Sometimes an image really grabs me. Like this painting,
Tobias and the Angel.
by Andrea del Verrocchio 1475
I just dug this out of my files. I found it years ago in one of my favorite places in New York--a treasure, really, the picture collection of the New York Public Library. It's a magical place. Say you want to look at pictures of mole rats, or shoe fashions in the fifteenth century, or Byzantine architecture. You just walk in with your library card, ask the librarian, who knows exactly where you should go and writes down the shelf and file numbers--you find a fat folder and sit down at a table to leaf through a pile of pictures, some of them decades old. I know you can do the same thing on the internet but there's something about holding those papers in your hand. You can take them home, too.
I must have been looking for pictures of angels and came upon this painting. I was knocked out by the energy of these two figures, the rich color and the intense gaze of the young man. I especially love the angel's feet.
It's the story of Tobias and the Angel told here by Frederick Buechner.
TOBIAS WAS A YOUNG man when he ran into the angel Raphael, and not knowing that he was an angel at all, let alone one of seven great ones who stand and enter before the glory of the Lord, Tobias hired him at a drachma a day to be his traveling companion. Accompanied by Tobias's dog, they had a series of adventures that were nothing less than extraordinary.
Tobias almost lost his foot to a great fish. He discovered a cure for his father's blindness. He picked up a large sum of money that his father had left with a friend. And after first curing a young woman named Sarah of a demon who had caused her first seven husbands to perish on their wedding nights, he not only married her himself but lived to tell the tale.
But the best part of the story is the short, no-nonsense prayer with which he married her. "And now I take not this my sister for lust, but in truth," he said. "Command that I and she may find mercy and grow old together. Amen" (Tobit 8:8-9).
Never has the knot been more securely or simply or eloquently tied, and it's small wonder that it lasted them through a long and happy marriage that did not come to an end until Tobias died in peace at the age of one hundred and seventeen.
Nice story, huh? I just had to draw that angel.
Now that I look at it I see that the left arm is way out of proportion. Oh, well. After a while, I decided to put something in the hand instead of that little jar of fish oil so I helped myself to some of Sam's baseball cards, making this Trading With the Angel, part of the series inspired by my grandmother's comment, "Tommy John got Traded to the Angels." Some little boys I know were horrified at what I'd done to the cards.
Would you say I stole this image? Mark Twain said, "It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected." I found that quote in a terrific book about creativity and work by Austin Kleon titled "Steal Like an Artist." I recommend it highly.
I find that when I'm looking at art by other people I'm thinking, "What can I take from this for my own work?" so I took the Angel Raphael and gave him a new setting.
Thank you, Mr. Verrochio, 575 years later your painting is still thrilling.