The story, from the 8th century BC / The needlework 17th century


Set of 4 17th century silkwork panels illustrating Tobias, from the Book of Tobit




Originally intended as the sides and ends to a casket covering,

the finely executed silk on silk needlework embroideries are still affixed

to their wooden substrates, retaining small holes for the hinges and hasps;

the images executed in precisely outlined directional satin stitch, long and short stitch,

with some couching and other stitches, the "windows" inset mica;

the two small panels likely intended as box sides, and the two larger panels for front and back.


The condition and color is remarkably pristine for the age - thus the conclusion that

the casket was either meticulously cared for - or never used.

The four embroideries are framed singly beneath glass in simple cut-corner frames.


6" x 8", The "Sides" / 6" x 6", The "Ends"


The Set of Four / #7580




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The Book of Tobias is considered one of the most delightful books of the Hebrew Scripture.

And the recent discovery of five scrolls of Tobit among the Dead Sea Scrolls,

in both Aramaic and Hebrew, has given the book renewed attention.

The book is a religious novel characterized as a Hebrew romance,

the message being that God is both just and free, offering much wisdom and advice for a good life.





Tobit (or Tobias the Father), an Israelite of the Northern Kingdom, was exiled,

(along with his wife Anna, and son Tobias) to Nineveh.

There he proved himself again and again to be a good man,

fearing God more than the King - even burying the dead in spite of the threat to his own life.


EMBROIDERY #1, Anna presents a kid & is scolded :



Anna Scolds Tobit, Book of Tobias (Tobit)



Exhausted from just such a burial, Tobit fell asleep near a wall

where warm droppings from a swallow's nest fell on his eyes, blinding him.

However Tobit's faith in God's goodness never left him.

Meanwhile, "Anna went daily to weaving work,

and brought home what she could get for their living by the labour of her hands."

"20 Whereby it came to pass, that she received a young kid, and brought it home :

21 And when her husband heard it bleating, he said:

Take heed, lest perhaps it be stolen : restore ye it to its owners,

for it is not lawful for us either to eat or to touch any thing that cometh by theft.

22 At these words his wife being angry answered :

It is evident thy hope is come to nothing, and thy alms now appear.

23 And with these, and other such like words she upbraided him."


Tobit (Tobias the Father), was greatly saddened and he prayed :

"6 And now, O Lord, do with me according to thy will, and command my spirit to be received in peace:

for it is better for me to die, than to live."



But also on that same day, in the city of Rages in Medes, Sara, daughter of Raguel,

was harshly reproached by one of her father's servants,

as she had been given seven husbands,  

all of whom had been killed by an evil spirit named Asmodeus.

Sara then went into an upper chamber of her house,

"and for three days and three nights did neither eat nor drink :

11 But continuing in prayer with tears besought God, that he would deliver her from this reproach."


God not only heard both their prayers,

but sent for their healing the "angel Rafael",

disguised as "Azarias, the son of the great Ananias".



EMBROIDERY #2, Tobias pulls the fish from the water for medicine :


Tobias pulls the fish from the water for medicine


Tobit, thinking that his prayer was heard, and he might soon die,

summoned his son Tobias and instructed him in his future living :

respect for his mother, almsgiving and mercy, purity, humility and honesty, and charity.

To attend to his family's security, Tobit also sent Tobias to retrieve 10 talents of silver lent to Gabelus -

also of Rages in Medes.

En route Tobias met "a beautiful young man" Azarias -

the disguised angel Rafael -

who assured Tobias he indeed knew the way both to Rages and the family he sought.

On the way, they lodged by the river Tigris wherein Tobias tried to wash his feet.

A monstrous fish came up and tried to devour him.

But the angel instructed Tobias to draw the fish from the water,

and to remove the heart, gall and liver as "medicines" -

then roasting and dining off the remaining flesh.


As they traveled, Tobias asked Azarias (the angel Rafael) what kind of remedies the fish had provided.

"And the angel, answering, said to him:

If thou put a little piece of its heart upon coals, the smoke thereof driveth away all kind of devils,

either from man or from woman, so that they come no more to them.

And the gall is good for anointing the eyes, in which there is a white speck, and they shall be cured."



EMBROIDERY #3, Tobias meets Sara :



Tobias meets Sara :



When Tobias asked the angel where in Rages they should lodge,

Rafael then answered that he (Tobias) had a kinsman in Rages,

with a daughter named Sara, whom he should take as a wife.

Tobias has heard of Sara's seven husbands killed by the evil spirit and feared for his own life -

particularly as he was all remaining to care for his parents.

However Rafael allayed Tobias' fears. Rafael also assured the confidences well of both Raguel

(whom it seems was Tobias the Father's brother) and his daughter Sara.

Thus both Tobias and Rafael were received with joy.

And before the festive dinner, Tobias made this proposal :

"I will not eat nor drink here this day, unless thou first grant me my petition,

and promise to give me Sara thy daughter".



EMBROIDERY #4, The evil spirit is driven away


The evil spirit is driven away


Believing God had regarded their many prayers, Sara and Tobias were wed.


1 And after they had supped, they broght in the young man to her.

2 And Tobias remembering the angel's word, took out of his bag part of the liver, and laid it upon burning coals.

3 Then the angel Raphael took the devil, and bound him in the desert of upper Egypt.


And they lived happily and prosperously ever after.

"and he saw his children's children to the fifth generation.

16 And after he had lived ninety-nine years in the fear of the Lord, with joy they buried him".



These depictions are only part of Tobias' story.


Included, but not illustrated, in this retelling must be

the healing of Tobit (Tobias the Father) :

Tobias took the gall of the monstrous fish back to his father,

anointed his eyes with it, began restoring his sight.

And Tobit - once again - could see his beloved and trusted son Tobias.


Also included must be a note regarding the small dog in Embroidery #3,

This small dog had accompanied Tobias and the angel Rafael for the entire journey.

And at the healing of Tobit's eyes, the small dog

"ran before, and coming as if he had brought the news,

shewed his joy by his fawning and wagging his tail"



The painting below entitled "Tobias and The Angel", Verrocchio, 1450-1500,
depicts this companion dog, but with rather a tiny fish.

It is said that the dog, the fish and Tobias' curl were possibly done by the young Leonardo da Vinci,

who was in Verrocchio's workshop c1470 - 1477.

(National Gallery of London)


“Tobias and The Angel”, Verrocchio, 1450-1500




Footnotes :


 The book of Tobias had not been included in the shorter Hebrew Canon.

However, Tobias (or Tobit) is included in the "Apocrypha" in the King James Bible.

(The "Apocrypha" are works, usually written of unknown authorship or of questionable origin).

Although their canonical validity was challenged in the 16th century by Protestants, the apocryphal books

were in fact translated as part of the King James Version of the Bible.

However, I am told (on good authority) the main reason for their exclusion from the King James Version was simply that

the publishers' feared that their inclusion might made the volume 'too large'!


Click below if you wish to read the entire "Tobias" text, from the Douay-Rheims Bible



Biblical scenes from both Old and New Testaments were common motifs in the 17th century.

Kings and Holy Figures often appeared as Charles II, and also included angels,

castles, fruiting trees, oversized flowers, insects and fountains.


A writing box embroidered with the story of Rebecca offering water to Eliezer

(from a 1585 Marten de Vos engraving) resides in the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia

with the following comment

:"Among the most complex of seventeenth-century embroidered objects were caskets,

designed to hold precious objects such as jewellery, writing equipment, cosmetics and keepsakes".




Also See :




England, c1670





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Fine Set of 4 Silkwork Depictions of the Book of Tobit (Tobias), England, 17th century 


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