Tobias Taking Leave of his Parents
by Nicolas Tournier, French 1590-1637
SN 110. Oil on Canvas

by Robert Anderson

Nicolas Tournier was one of the most important French Caravaggisti in Rome during the period 1619-1626. Note : Caravaggisti are that group of painters of different nationalities, working in Rome in the first quarter of the 17th century who were influenced by the violent chiaroscuro of Caravaggio. Tournier's style was close to that of Bartolomeo Manfredi who along with Valentin and Piero della Francesca strongly influenced his development.

By 1627 he was back in France and, after basing himself in Toulouse from 1632, his numerous large altarpieces helped to turn that city into one of the most lively provincial centers of painting in 17th century France. In his pictures Tournier effctively used the expressive power of strong chiaroscuro and sometimes achieved great dramatic intensity through the simplification of poses and composition. He is known also for the grace and refinement of his style.

Tobias was the son of Tobit and Hannah. They lived in Assyria having been taken in captivity. Tobit was a religious Jewish man who had become blind. His blindness had been caused by a white film that had developed on his eyes. He could no longer work to earn money and his wife had to seek employment. Earlier on he had had significant earnings and had saved and deposited money in another town. He decides to send his only son, Tobias, on a journey to redeem these savings but being concerned for Tobias' safety he tells him to find someone to go with him.

The person Tobias finds is the angel, Raphael, who not only keeps Tobias company on the journey but protects him from danger. Tobias' mother Hannah was not consulted on the decision to send her son on the journey and is upset at his leaving home. Tobias travels to the other city and has a number of adventures. He redeems the money deposited by his father, finds a woman to be his wife and also a cure for his fathers blindness - thanks to the help and teaching of Raphael, the angel. He returns home triumphant and lives to a ripe old age.

Four figures are seen in this painting positioned against a dark background. At the left is Tobit, Tobias' father wearing clothes of blue and brown. He has a dark brown beard and shadowed eyes which depict his blindness. Next to him is Hannah, Tobias'mother whose face is highlighted. She is crying and wiping her eyes as she has just realized that young Tobias is leaving them. Young Tobias with a red cloak and brown vest is centered in the picture. He is seen holding a walking stick in his right hand and appears to be looking at and listening to instructions from his father. At the right is the angel, Raphael, who will guide Tobias successfully on his journey. He has gray wings, brown hair and wears dark clothes. His chest and right shoulder which are bare and highlighted appear almost feminine in appearance.

All in all this is a rather realistic depiction of the leave taking of a young boy from his family.Tobias is anxious to undertake the journey, the father gives directions and the mother gives vent to her feelings of sadness at their parting. Raphael, who will be Tobias' mentor and protector on this trip shows his willingness to undertake the trip.

Historical Context
Tournier lived and painted in that period from 1600 to 1650 when many colonies of artists, primarily foreign, were active in Rome. Artists from many northern countries flocked to Rome for two basic reasons. First,they could study and paint the classical antiquities from the actual originals, and second, there were many commissions to be had from the wealthy nobles and princes of the Church. Tournier as mentioned above was in Rome from 1616 to at least 1626.