Rembrandt – The return of the Prodigal Son


Rembrandt The Return of the Prodigal Son

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn: The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1666/1669
Oil on canvas, 262 x 206 cm, St. Petersburg, Hermitage (detail)


Image description


The very dark acting in the whole scene lets the bright shiny group of father and son come out more. The image is determined by the easily forwards stooped shape of the old father and his son kneeling in front of him.

The face of the father is easily bent after to the side, the eyes seem almost to be blind like Rembrandt himself in his last time. The light coming from the left letzs his big forehead look especially remarkable. The face is framed by an engaged headgear, grey hair and a long beard easily divided in the middle. Over the shoulders the father carries a short red cape with tassels reaching up to his forearms. He moves with open, slightly spread hands over the bright back and shoulders of his son.

Remarkably the difference of the hands, they seem almost female with elegant fingers and male with exhausted skin. The son rests with closed eyes and his turned head against the father, his head shaven like a slave. The head reminds also strongly of the brains oft newborn children birth – birth also means the found again son!

The son carries only a worn out linen coloured simple girth petticoat. One recongnises by his right side in a scabbard the handle of a short sword – the son has never lost completely his family pride and his honour! The simple footwear oft the son bears clear traces of wear and tear. The left foot rests – with the naked sole towards the viewer – beside the taken off shoe.

Image interpretation


Rembrandt chooses for his interpretation of the simile the quintessential point of the story of Jesus: the mercy of the father to the repentant son. Besides, conspicusly Rembrandt moves the hands oft he father in the centre. Differently than in the story in which from an embrace oft the father is his speech, the hands lie like a blessing on the shoulders oft he son. The gesture is an expression of forgiveness and love. These are deeply internal, concealed events which is underlined by the careful touch and the closed eyes oft the father and the son.

The intimacy and unconditionality of this respect is still strengthened by opposition in the appearance. Thus meet the father and son, young and old, wealth and poverty. While the father ständs, the son kneels, while the father from the house has stepped, the son from the stranger comes. Even if we can recognise the face oft he son only a little, nevertheless, the deep attachment of both persons is emphasised by the brightly shining light once again.



  From the brothel in the pigsty - and again home!

The prodigal son in the brothel - Rembrandt

Self-portrait of Rembrandts (about 1636)


Rembrandt was then about 30s old: he painted himself with his wife Siskia whom he loved and admired. He sunned himself in success as a young painter. He knew about his genius. He was rich and enjoyed life: He loves expensive clothes, flashy jewelry and nice hats: berets.

Highspirited he lives in luck: he shows it without restraint in this picture. His hand covers his wife on his lap as a possession. He toasts the viewer with a beer glass!

And what Rembrandt himself had painted later and now is visible in the picture: a naked flute-player as well as accessories of a brothel became visible under the dark background with electronic specialized fluoroscopic. He lost the measure. He was regarded as arrogant and conceited; as addicted to luxury and wastefully. He took little consideration on the feelings and sensations of other. His genius seemed to give him right for everything. Ironically one gave this image the title "The prodigal son in the brothel".


However, Rembrandt also got know the other side oft he life:

1635 died his son Rumbartus.

1638 died his first daughter Cornelia and 1640 his second daughter Cornelia.

1642 died his wife Saskia. He remained with the 9-month-old son Titus.

He had an unhappy relationship with the nurse of Titus.

1656 he was considered insolvent. 1657 and 1658 his house in Amsterdam were auctioned, also his large collection of art objects and its furniture. He was never free from debt.

Later, he had a relationship with Hendrickje Stoffels, who also ended tragically.

She bore him a son, who died in 1652, and a daughter, Cornelia.

Only his son Titus remained with him. He painted him: The child picture of Titus maybe perhaps the most beautiful picture he has ever painted.

1668 married Titus. For a moment the happiness had returned to Rembrandt's house. The young couple expected a child. They were full of joy.

Then Titus died in September 1668 unexpectedly.


Pain and suffering of the father had to be limitless.

Rembrandt was lonely, grows bitter - and finally almost completely blind.

Nevertheless, he found a little peace in his last years.

The many fatalities also had a purifying effect.

He painted his last pictures with increasing warmth and inwardness.

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