Raphael | The Miraculous Draught of Fishes

About this Painting

The Raphael Cartoons are designs for tapestries and were commissioned from Raphael by Pope Leo X (reg. 1513-21) shortly after his election in 1513. The tapestries were intended to hang in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, built by one of Leo's predecessors Pope Sixtus IV (reg. 1471-84). The Chapel was primarily intended for the use of the Pope and the body of clergy and Laity immediately surrounding him. The decoration of the chapel under Sixtus addressed the lives of Moses and Christ. The tapestries continued this theme, illustrating scenes from the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul who were seen as the founders of the Christian Church, and reinforcing the legitimity of the Pope's authority and power. The resulting tapestries had in addition woven borders showing scenes from Leo's life and from the lives of Saint Paul, also designed by Raphael: the cartoons for these have not survived.

In this cartoon Christ tells Peter to cast his net into the water whereupon he and his fellow apostles make a miraculous catch. The story refers to Peter's role as 'fisher of men', who converts others to Christianity. It also demonstrates his humility as he kneels before Christ to acknowledge His divinity, and confess his own sinfulness.

Simon, wearing a blue tunic, is kneeling before Christ. He has been fishing unsuccessfully on the Lake of Gennesaret in the Sea of Galilee. Jesus tells him to cast his nets into deep water, which produces such a large catch that the boat overflows with fish. Simon exclaims that he is unworthy of such a miracle. Jesus raises his hand in blessing and replies, 'Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men', announcing the role that Simon would now have in helping to spread the Christian faith. The corresponding tapestry was displayed in the Sistine Chapel on St Stephen day, 26 December, 1519. It is probable that Raphael saw it and even supervised its installation in the chapel.

An in-depth analysis of this and all of the other Raphael Cartoons is available at the The V&A Website.

Connection to last week's item:This week's item and last week's share an artist, despite being vastly different in terms of their materials, purpose, and size.


Further Resources

Screenshot of Registered Image of <i>The Miraculous Draught of Fishes</i>.

The Victoria and Albert Museum has done extensive work to align the various scientific images captured by their photographic and conservation departments and present them simultaneously. The image above combines the photograph of the cartoon captured in visible light with an image of the texture of the surface of the object. To experience combining the visible light image, with the infrared image, which highlights Raphael's underdrawing, and with the texture of the surface of the painting, as well as see ultra-high definition images of the cartoon, click here.