Representing TOBIAS: our new AHRC-funded project building on the Bibliography of British and Irish History
by Jane Winters
Finding an image to represent a new research project can be something of a challenge, particularly when that project does not have any strong visual focus. How do you illustrate linked open data without resorting to stock photos of networks and circuits which ultimately do nothing other than fill space? The Thesaurus of British and Irish History as SKOS, which is supported by follow-on funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, has the acronym TOBIAS (you will, I hope, forgive us for quietly overlooking H for History). It is this that we have chosen to draw upon, using the stained glass depiction of ‘Tobias and Sara on their Wedding Night’ (Germany, c.1520) that forms part of the collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is a peaceful image from what is a far from peaceful story. The Book of Tobit (or Tobias) is a scriptural work included in the Apocrypha, declared canonical by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. The Tobias depicted in the 16th-century stained glass panel is the son of the pious Tobit. Tobias marries his cousin Sara despite the fact that all seven of her previous husbands have been consumed by demons on their wedding night. With the help of the archangel Raphael, and the fumes from burning the heart and liver of a fish, the demons are driven away, and the marriage prospers. The small dog curled up at the foot of the bed had travelled with Tobias from his homeland, and art historians believe that its inclusion here may be a reference to fidelity and marriage. The image as a whole, complete with a pair of shoes left beside the bed, gives no indication of the horrible fate that has just been avoided.
More information about the stained glass panel and its history may be found at http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O64856/tobias-and-sara-on-their-panel-unknown/. Tobias’s small dog has also attracted some attention online, with a lovely Tumblr devoted to its appearances in art (http://tobiassdog.tumblr.com/) and a short piece in the Huffington Post speculating that it might in fact be an angel (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-gilmour/is-that-biblical-dog-an-a_b_1609861.html). Finally, for details of the project itself, do take a look at http://www.history.ac.uk/projects/digital/tobias.