The Parable of “The Prodigal Son”

     A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, “Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, “How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.’”
      So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.' But his father ordered his servants, “Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.” Then the celebration began.
      Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, “Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, “Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.” He said to him, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” (Lk.15:11-32)

Pictures of “The Prodigal Son”

— by Rembrandt The Return of the Prodigal Son (932x717pix; 105kb) embraced by father
— by Dürer The Prodigal Son repenting (1496 engraving, 26x20cm; 1062x801pix, 169kb) Here Dürer deviated considerably from earlier depictions of the theme. Here, the scene is placed in the midst of a Franconian farm and shows the prodigal son at the moment of his repentance, kneeling in prayer on a pile of manure in the foreground amongst the swine. The naturalism of the picture was widely admired and contributed to the fame of the engraving.
— by Ghezzi The Prodigal Son (1730, 98x134cm; 702x942 717x960pix, 567kb _ ZOOM to 1710x2300pix, 3573kb) welcomed by father, barked at by dog; fattened calf and fine clothing being brought in, two girls dancing to tambourine.
— by Hemessen The Prodigal Son (1536, 140x198pix, 800x1136pix, 181kb) feasting in a brothel _ The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15, 1 1-22) illustrates above all the theme of repentance and the infinite nature of divine mercy. By choosing to show the episode, mentioned only in passing in the Bible, of the young man wasting away his inheritance in debauchery, Hemessen underlines, on the contrary, the hard lot of mankind constantly harassed by its faults. This novel interpretation originates in the developments that the literature of the period brings to the theme. The iconography created in this way was to be immensely successful and would underlie the Brothel Scenes and Joyous Companies that flourish in later Flemish painting.
      In an astonishingly novel setting, the artist places in the foreground the prodigal son, surrounded by women of easy morals and abandoning himself to the sins of the senses: lechery, gluttony, laziness. The artist peoples the scene with strongly characterised, almost caricatural figures, that we find again in several of his paintings: the aging pimp with a cupidinous and revolting grin, the red-faced, jeering drunk, the avid gambler, the prostitute. These large figures strike the viewer with their bold foreshortening and their brusque gestures.
      Concerned to express the third dimension, the artist explores, not without difficulty, the plastic possibilities offered by the monumental forms of Italian art, onto which he grafts the at times cruel realism and vision of detail that are specific to the Flemish tradition. All this strengthens the ambiguity of the picture, which takes pleasure in displaying vices under the pretext of condemning them. The story continues at the back of the picture: the prodigal son, having lost all his money and his pourpoint, is chased out of town; relegated to tending the pigs he expresses a sincere repentance. Finally, he returns to the house of his father, who pardons him.
      The shift from the large figures in the foreground to the miniaturised episodes in the background is somewhat abrupt. Only the colonnaded portico, decorated with grotesques and foliated scrolls, provides a relative transition. The elegant, rapidly drawn figures in the background are the work of an anonymous fellow artist, known as the Master of Paul and Barnabas, who was deeply influenced by the famous tapestry patterns done in Rome by Raphael and sent to Brussels in 1517 for weaving.
— by Honthorst The Prodigal Son feasting (1622, 130x196cm; 660x987pix, 95kb)
— by Honthorst The Prodigal Son feasting to music (1623, 125 x 157 cm; 780x991pix, 112kb)
— by Metsu The Prodigal Son (1645, 77x66cm, 575x488pix, 119kb)
— by Puvis de Chavannes The Prodigal Son repenting (1879, 107x147cm; 380x533pix, 60kb) _ detail 1 (390x515pix, 84kb) half length _ detail 2 (390x520pix, 86kb) face, hand, upper chest
— by Rosa The Prodigal Son (1650, 254x201cm) praying, kneeling next to cattle.
— by Teniers Jr. The Prodigal Son (1640, 57x77cm; 822x1130pix, 472kb _ ZOOM to 1726x2365pix, 1963kb) wining and dining to music with two women; a curtained-off king-sized bed is in a corner; a clothed monkey is chained to a cannonball.
— by Troger [1698-1762] Le Départ du fils prodigue (39x27cm; 844x580pix, 93kb)
— by Dürer The Prodigal Son among the Swine (1498)
— by Willson The Prodigal Son in Misery (1815 drawing)
— by Tissot The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: in Foreign Climes (1882)
— by Tissot The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: the Departure (1882)
— by Tissot The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: the Fatted Calf (1882)
— by Tissot The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: the Return (1882)
— by Willson The Prodigal Son Reclaimed (1815 drawing)
— by Willson The Prodigal Son Taking Leave of His Father (1815 drawing)
— by Willson The Prodigal Son Wasted His Substance (1815 drawing)
— by Beham, Hans Sebald The Prodigal Son Wasting His Patrimony (1540 engraving, 5x9cm) _ The Little Masters among printmakers were so called not because the group included masters of lesser artistic stature, but because the majority of their engravings were small, close to the dimensions of miniatures. Within the limits of a tiny format, however, Albrecht Altdorfer, Georg Pencz, and the Beham brothers, the most famous of the Little Masters, made large statements. Their fascinating, excellently engraved prints have been avidly collected from the time of issue to the present. Hans Sebald Beham and his brother Barthel Beham came from Nuremberg, a major centre for the engraver's and woodcutter's art. The two brothers and their friend Georg Pencz managed to enrage the authorities by their frivolous attitude toward religion at a time when freethinkers were not welcome in Nuremberg, a town steeped in the tenets of the Reformation. In 1525, they were banished from their native city. The present scene, one of a series dealing with the story of the Prodigal Son, is larger in format than the majority of Beham's prints. It is a work of the artist's maturity, and it reveals those characteristics which made his work popular with the public and unpopular with the authorities. The wastrel and his cronies, surprisingly mature and worldly, are sporting with their female companions in the secluded corner of an outdoor enclosure. Beham, who later succumbed to producing prints on Classical themes, here depicts the people and costumes of his own day. If no title were given, this print might be another of the genre scenes upon which Beham's fame rests, for no moralizing spirit is implicit in this illustration of pleasure seeking and the overture to sin. Only the Latin inscription identifies the subject.
— by Rembrandt van Rijn Rembrandt and Saskia in the Scene of the Prodigal Son in the Tavern, ca.1635 1635 Oil on canvas, 161 x 131 cm Gemäldegalerie, Dresden Send this picture as postcard Friendly format for printing and bookmarking Order oil painting This unique double portrait of Rembrandt and Saskia (c. 1635-36) seems to offer an ironic and reflective gaze at his life. Here, too, an etching echoes the subject of the painting, but in the 1636 etched double portrait Rembrandt shows himself at work, drawing as he looks up at the viewer. In the Dresden painting Saskia sits on the lap of a foppishly dressed Rembrandt, who gaily holds up a flagon of ale as he twists to offer a silly grin out of the picture. This tavern setting at once indulges a current "Arcadian" fashion for showing fashionable ladies as courtesans (yet another incarnation of the goddess Flora, with whom Rembrandt had already identified Saskia) as well as draws upon the pictorial tradition of the Prodigal Son with the tavern harlots. It is worth noting that the lavish dress of this couple offers an echo of the finery in the Kassel profile of Saskia, but here the suggestion of loose living and of future repentance from the Prodigal Son analogy also sounds a note of self-criticism.
— by Bearden
Return of the Prodigal Son (1967, 128x152cm; 400x473pix, 60kb) For Bearden, one of the most important aspects of life and culture is ritual—the numerous customs, ceremonies, and beliefs that are an integral part of daily life. Return of the Prodigal Son is part of a series called The Prevalence of Ritual, created by Bearden in the 1960s and 1970s. Most of the images in the series are universal in theme, and a number refer specifically to stories in the Bible. Bearden updates the story: "The Prodigal Son has left North Carolina, gotten into bad company and has come back to the ‘old folks,’ his home, where, as Robert Frost says, when no one else wants you, they got to take you in."
      The collage contains references to both the traditional and modern versions of the story. The returning son, on the left, is greeted by two women, reflecting perhaps a common type of contemporary nuclear family. The candle between the two women might refer to the proverbial candle in the window, left burning for returning friends and family members. On the right are utensils and a salt shaker, and on the left a bottle of wine, perhaps reflecting the feast that would be served to celebrate the youth’s homecoming.
      Bearden’s work is strongly influenced by the musical forms of jazz and the blues. The rhythms and tones of jazz are reflected in the way he arranges shapes and patterns and applies color to his collages. The fact that jazz is often made up of improvisation combined with a general underlying plan parallels Bearden’s working technique. Part of the message contained in The Prodigal Son was inspired by the blues, from which he adopted values such as hope and the existence of dignity in all subjects, even the most downtrodden. He said, "Even though you go through these terrible experiences, you come out feeling good. That’s what the blues say, and that’s what I believe—life will prevail."
— by Flinck The Return of the Prodigal Son (1640, 133x170; .70x500pix, 77kb) Flinck, a student of Rembrandt in the mid-1630s, was inspired by his master's etching of 1636 for his interpretation of this subject. He also showed his continuing dependence on Rembrandt's earthy palette and broadly applied brushstrokes. The painting shows the moment of reconciliation and forgiveness between the father and his repentant son.
— by Guercino Return of the Prodigal Son, 1619 Return of the Prodigal Son 1619 Oil on canvas, 106,5 x 143,5 cm Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna Send this picture as postcard Friendly format for printing and bookmarking Order oil painting This work is from Guercino's early period, when he was beginning to achieve some initial fame and was already familiar with both the main trends of early Italian Baroque, Caravaggism and the Bolognese reform of the Annibale Carracci school. His decision to use the approach of Caravaggio may have something to do with the choice of subject matter, contrasting the humility of human existence and the possibilities of costume as disguise - a concept formulated by Caravaggio in his paintings for San Luigi and frequently taken up by his followers. Guercino does not portray the return of the prodigal son as a scene of recognition or joy, choosing instead to depict a more tranquil motif from the biblical parable - the moment when he is given fine robes to wear. On the left in the painting, the young man has stood up and is removing the rags of the swineherd, while an old man, presumably his father, places a hand on his shoulder and takes a clean shirt from the other, foppishly dressed young man who is holding new clothes over his outstretched arm and new shoes in his hand. By using light and shade to divide the group, Guercino lends a singular autonomy to the dynamics of the outstretched and grasping hands, thereby intensifying the narrative in a most unusual way.
— by Guercino The Return of the Prodigal Son (1619)
— by Maris The Return Of The Prodigal Son (1859)
— by Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds The Return of the Prodigal Son
— by Murillo The Return of the Prodigal Son (1670)
— by Rembrandt The Return of the Prodigal Son (1636 etching)
— by Rembrandt The Return of the Prodigal Son (1669)
— by Rembrandt The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1636
— by Rosa The Return of the Prodigal Son
— by Rubens Return of the Prodigal Son (1618)
— by Scheffer The Return of the Prodigal Son
— by Steen The Return of the Prodigal Son (1670)
— by Tissot The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1862
— by van Aelst Scenes from the Life of the Prodigal Son (1530)
— by Murillo The Departure of the Prodigal Son (1665)
— by Hemessen Merry Company (Prodigal Son) (1640)
— by de Chirico The Prodigal Son (1922)
— by Murillo The Prodigal Son Driven Out (1665)
— by Murillo The Prodigal Son Feasting with Courtesans (1665)
— by Murillo The Prodigal Son Feeding Swine (1665)
— by Murillo The Prodigal Son Receiving His Portion of Inheritance
— by Murillo The Return of the Prodigal Son (1665)
updated Sunday 18-Mar-2007 2:55 UT