(b. 1483, Urbino, d. 1520, Roma)

Miraculous Draught of Fishes

Tempera on paper, mounted on canvas, 360 x 400 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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.