REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn
(b. 1606, Leiden, d. 1669, Amsterdam)

Tobit Accusing Anna of Stealing the Kid

Oil on panel, 40 x 30 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Catalogue number: Bredius 486.

This painting dates from shortly after Rembrandt had set up as an independent artist in Leiden in 1625.

The subject is taken from the Apocryphal Book of Tobit (Chapter II, vv, 11-14). Tobit was a wealthy, God-fearing Jew, strict in his observance of the Mosaic law, who had lost all his money and been blinded in an accident. To keep them from starving, his wife Anna took in sewing and washing. One day, hearing the bleating of a kid which Anna had been given to supplement her earnings, Tobit falsely accuses her of having stolen it. In return, she upbraids him for his self-righteousness which has brought them to their present plight (this is the scene represented in the picture). Later, however, the couple's fortunes are restored by their son, Tobias, who goes to find the money his father has lost and to marry a rich wife. On the way he meets the Angel Raphael, who instructs him when they come to a river to catch a large fish, the entrails of which are afterwards applied to Tobit's eyes to cure his blindness.

In this work Rembrandt depicts the psychological tension between the two protagonists. The mood of the blind old Tobit suddenly becomes one of suspicion and despair when he wonders how his wife, Anna, has managed to lay hands on a kid. She in turn is baffled by his mistrust.

The space depicted is confined but packed with domestic detail: onions hanging up by the window, a basket on the wall, cooking utensils on the shelves, part of Anna's sewing apparatus glimpsed between the two figures, and, in the foreground, Tobit's stick, his dog and a modest fire.

Such meticulously painted still-life detail had been a characteristic of Netherlandish art since the fifteenth century. However, in contrast to so many examples of its use up to and including the seventeenth century, it appears here to be without ulterior symbolic meaning; the purpose is to give the maximum reality to the events of the story.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.