The prodigal son


The two-figure sculptural composition represents the climax of the parable: back home, the kneeling son honestly regrets his waywardness. His uncomfortably-bent figure suggests a fitful weeping and the anxious expectation of a denouement, with a small tinge of hope for forgiveness. The bare feet with their hardened soles, the plain clothes sashed with an ordinary rope tell of adversities and deprivations. Meanwhile, the father, wearing an elegantly undulating cloak with a richly ornamented hem, secured with a fibula, is a paragon of exterior well-being and interior assertive power. His tilted head signals acceptance full of gentle melancholy – the joy of winning back his son and the sorrow over past troubles. The high brow and noble appearance sweep away any doubt there may be about the wisdom of the decision he has made, and the heart-stirring gesture of his arms embracing the son sets the emotional tone of the scene. Striking a high note of humanity, the composition draws on the famous concept of Rembrandt’s similarly themed picture, in which the painter summarized his philosophical and artistic reflections. The composition is undoubtedly pivoted around the father’s figure – its assertive vertical is akin to the axis, or pivot of the world. Around it, the forms unfold in coiled rhythms, defining convoluted turns with climaxes and spatial pauses. The folds, sculpted in bold relief, add an edge to the emotion. The sections of thickened volume on hands, heads, and legs accentuate the corporality of the image and highlight key points. The father’s head is the climax in the build-up of forms, which seem to be gaining strength from the statue’s wide base up, spiralling on and on, to the height of its expressiveness.

 

Brief annotations to the image

THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON is one of the parables told by Jesus Christ, as cited in the Gospel of Luke; it preaches humanity and forgiveness. This is what the father tells his sinless son: “My son! You are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” This theme is very popular in art. The key points of the story are: the prodigal son receives his share of the father’s estate; he leaves home; he revels with courtesans in an inn; they tell him to go away when he squanders all his money; he works as a swineherd; he returns home and begs his father for forgiveness.