This is the hope for all of us, that we would return to our father, the God of Heaven and Earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That is our hope whether we are most represented by the Younger or the Elder son in the parable taught Jesus in Luke 15.
The Return of the Prodigal Son is also a book written by Henri J. M. Nouwen parallelling the parable taught by Jesus with the Rembrandt painting now hanging in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Henri’s own life. There are grand parallels and readers will find, as I do, parallels in life to all of these.
To kick things off I would like to relay some things about the painting here. The painting is actually at a minimum Rembrandt’s second portrayal of the return of the prodigal son.
From the Hermitage Museum website:
The Return of the Prodigal Son
Rembrandt, Harmensz van Rijn
In the Gospel According to Luke (xv: 11-32), Christ relates the parable of the prodigal son. A son asks his father for his inheritance and leaves the parental home, only to fritter away all his wealth. Arriving at last at sickness and poverty, he returns to his father’s house. The old man is blinded by tears as he forgives his son, just as God forgives all those who repent.
This whole work is dominated by the idea of the victory of love, goodness and charity. The event is treated as the highest act of human wisdom and spiritual nobility, and it takes place in absolute silence and stillness. Drama and depth of feeling are expressed in the figures of both father and son, with all the emotional precision with which Rembrandt was endowed. The broad, sketchy brushstrokes of the artist’s late style accentuate the emotion and intensity of this masterly painting.
Oil on canvas; 262 x 205 cm
The subject comes from the Bible, The Gospel According to Luke, XV: 20-24. The artist had already turned to the theme several times in his graphic works, but in the Hermitage painting, created not long before his death, the painter endowed it with the sense of great tragedy elevated to a symbol of universal significance. Complex emotions are expressed in the figure of the bent old man and his suffering, kneeling son: repentance and charity, boundless love and regret at the belated spiritual awakening. These images represent the summit of Rembrandt’s psychological mastery.