The Miraculous draught of fishes is a subject taken from St. John (21; 1-8), that represents a pivotal moment in the early history of Christianity.1 The episode evolves around Christ's appearance after his resurrection to his disciples and highlights Saint Peter's future leading role in spreading the Christian faith.
When the disciples did not immediately recognized Christ, he asked them: "Friends, haven't you any fish?" After their confirmation they had not, Christ replied: "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." Upon doing so, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Teniers selected the emotionally charged moment when Christ is recognized and Peter steps into the water to meet Christ. The meeting of the calm and dignified Saviour with the devout Saint Peter is purposefully contrasted and subtly isolated from the rest of the scene with the other disciples, who are struggling to secure their catch.
Teniers rarely painted religious or mythological themes although there are examples from every phase of his career.2 The Miraculous draught of fishes is a subject he painted on one more occasion, which is a slightly bigger version of our painting only known through an etching by Thomas Major (1714 or 1720-1799), published in 1752 in a John well-known print series called The Most Capital Paintings in England (fig. 1).
Because this type of theme is quite uncommon for Teniers and both treatments are executed on relatively big dimensions, the paintings may well have been commissions. Teniers' religious scenes are mostly styled as genre pieces or they are set outdoors with the landscape taking precedence over the actual subject. Although the latter is not the case in the present work, Teniers did seize the occasion to explore the landscape motif here, while at the same time enlivening it with anecdotal, genre-like detail of which the lovely scene in the background is a fine example. The sweeping seascape and beautiful sky, with its arresting atmospheric effects, such as the bundle of concentrated sunlight breaking through the cloud formations, are superbly executed and heighten the drama of the religious scene. Margret Klinge (op. cit.) dates the present painting to the end of the 1650s, when the artist was living in Brussels.
This painting is to be included in the forthcoming monograph with catalogue raisonné, currently in preparation by Dr. Margret Klinge, Düsseldorf.
Figure 1 - Thomas Major after David Teniers the Younger, The Miraculous draught of fishes, etching, 495 x 605 mm.
1 This subject is the so-called second Miraculous draught of fishes, not to be confused with the more frequently depicted first story related by Luke (5; 1-11), which took place before Christ's death on the cross and which contains the well-known passage in which he tells his pupils: "from now on you will be fishers of men".
2 For Teniers's history paintings see: J.P. Davidson, Religious and mythological paintings by David II Teniers, (PhD thesis University of Kansas) Ann Arbor (MI), 1975.
3 See for this painting and the mention of the print: J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonn of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters, London, 1834, vol. 3 (1831), nr. 407, p. 367.