Scala/Art Resource, New York, N.Y.

Fantasy and romance set in eighth-century B.C.E Assyria, the apocryphal book of Tobit is actually a guide to how a Jewish community can survive in exile. The prescription includes acts of charity, faith in God and marriages only within the community. God sends the angel Raphael to help two Jews with serious plights: Tobit has been blinded after piously burying his fellow Jews who had been executed by the Assyrians; Tobit’s kinswoman Sarah is besieged by the demon Asmodeus who kills in succession her seven bridegrooms before the marriage can be consummated. These afflictions are ended by magical means when Raphael guides Tobit’s son Tobias on his journey to retrieve the family’s fortune.

In this interpretation by Italian sculptor Giovanni Baratta (1670–1747), Tobias is shown as a young boy, not the man who in a few days will outwit the demon Asmodeus and marry Sarah. The angel Raphael, disguised in the story as a relative, is depicted here with unmistakably angelic wings. As his pet dog jumps up on his knee, Tobias drags the magic fish whose organs he will use under Raphael’s direction to restore his father’s sight and to rescue Sarah.