The Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, 1669, based on Jesus’ parable found in Luke 15.
I recently told some friends, the image of the father embracing the son really helps me understand redemption and restoration, mourning for sin and the comfort of God.
This painting is amazing. So detailed. Check out the son’s tattered clothes, one bare foot, his hair is mostly gone, he’s on his knees with his head just buried against his fathers chest.
The father is aged, but stately, well adorned in layers, complete with a red robe. He looks down with compassion. His arms embrace the son with love, acceptance, and protection. His left hand looks muscular while his right is slender—maybe depicting his perfect blend of strength and tenderness.
The self-righteous older brother is on our right. He actually looks like a slightly younger version of the father. Same beard, clothes and all. One thing he doesn’t have that the father has—grace and compassion. His look is one of scorn. You can look like the father and still not have his heart.
Who’s that just to the left of the older brother? The artist formally known as Prince? Just kidding. Clearly he’d be wearing purple. Ha. No, that character is probably one of the father’s well cared for hired servants. He looks on this scene of grace like he gets it. As a well fed and honored servant, he knows about getting the good that you don’t deserve.
Who’s back there in the shadows? Most believe that’s the mother. While it’s not part of the biblical narrative, that makes sense right? She’s delighted too. Momma’s love grace.
Rembrandt painted this when he was 63. He died not long after. Many believe that Rembrandt painted this from a deep understanding of being in need of grace. Rembrandt squandered his wealth faster than he made it. History tells us he died poor and was buried in a pouper’s grave. Like all of us, he’d made his share of mistakes.
The picture of the prodigal son coming home doesn’t mean much until you’ve seen yourself in it. But then it means the world.
Of course, I can’t leave out the fact that Jesus Christ, who told the story of the Prodigal son, actually made this glorious picture a reality. He died and paid the penalty for our sins so we we could come home to the father and be received and embraced and comforted, just as we are. What a God!?!?
“Come to me all of you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest…for your souls.” -Jesus, Matthew 11:28-29