National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Return of the Prodigal Son Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (artist)
Spanish, 1617 - 1682
The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1667/1670
oil on canvas
overall: 236.3 x 261 cm (93 1/16 x 102 3/4 in.) framed: 262.9 x 286.4 x 8.6 cm (103 1/2 x 112 3/4 x 3 3/8 in.)
Gift of the Avalon Foundation
On View
From the Tour: Spanish Painting in the Seventeenth Century
Object 7 of 7

Murillo was a member of the Hermandad de la Caridad, a lay brotherhood devoted to acts of charity, and this large canvas was one of a series he painted for the brotherhood's church in Seville. The brotherhood's leader called them "six hieroglyphs that explain six works of charity." The story of the prodigal son, told in Luke 15:11-32, was commonly used in the seventeenth century to focus on themes of forgiveness and resurrection. A son, having squandered his wealth with sinful living, repented and returned to his father's household, not to be granted privileges but to work. Moved to compassion, his father embraced him, telling his servants, "Fetch quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet . . . and let us eat and make merry because this my son was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost and now is found."

The large figures in the center, father and son, command attention by their size and powerful triangular arrangement, but our eye is also drawn by bright colors -- yellow, blue, and red -- to the figure on the right. This servant holds the shoes and new garments, and next to him another man holds a large ring. While Murillo's emphasis on the garments is unusual, it does underscore one of the Hermandad's six acts of charity -- to clothe the naked.

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