Title: The Miraculous Draught of Fishes
Artist: Konrad Witz
Medium: Tempera on wood
Size: 132 x 151 cm
Location: Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneva.
Luke 5:1-11: One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Christ’s calling his newfound disciples to be fishers of people is related in both Matthew 4:18 and Mark 1:16, but rather than focusing only on the calling of his disciples, Luke also relates this miraculous draught of fishes. By this vast draught of fishes, Christ intended to show his dominion in the seas as well as on the dry land, over its wealth as over its waves. Thus he would show that he was that Son of man under whose feet all things were put, particularly ‘the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas’ (Ps. 8:8). The size of the catch tells Simon and his companions that this event has been no accident. The greatest moment in their fishing career causes them to stop and ponder what God is doing. Jesus has taken Peter's humble faith and scared him to death with God's presence. But in the uncertainty that often surrounds faith comes the divine voice that says, "Don't be afraid."
Konrad Witz (ca. 1400 - ca. 1445) was a German-born painter from Rottweil in Swabia, active in Switzerland and generally considered a member of the Swiss school. Although few paintings by him survive, these few show that he was remarkably advanced in his naturalism, suggesting a knowledge of the work of his contemporaries Jan van Eyck and the Master of Flémalle. Witz's most famous works are the four surviving panels (forming two wings) from the altarpiece of St Peter he painted for the cathedral in Geneva (although the central panel is lost). The Miraculous Draught of Fishes is Witz's masterpiece and his only signed and dated work. The landscape setting depicts part of Lake Geneva, and Witz's remarkable naturalism is evident in his observation of reflection and refraction in the water.