Overview

Murillo's great talent for dramatic painting is apparent in this monumental depiction of the familiar parable of the prodigal son, an allegory of repentance and divine forgiveness. With players and props effectively placed to underscore the drama, it is reminiscent of a well-staged theater piece.

The artist selected the essential elements of the story's climax: the penitent son welcomed home by his forgiving father; the rich garments and ring that signify the errant son's restoration to his former position in the family; and the fatted calf being led to the slaughter for the celebratory banquet. The larger-than-life, central, pyramidal grouping of father and son dominates the picture, while the richest color is reserved for the servant bearing the new garments. Murillo may have chosen to emphasize that aspect of the parable -- symbolic of charity -- because of the nature of the commission. The Return of the Prodigal Son was one of eight huge canvases painted for the Church of the Hospital of Saint George in Seville, a hospice for the homeless and hungry.

Murillo's model was the life around him; part of the appeal of this canvas lies in its human touches -- the realism of the prodigal's dirty feet, the puppy jumping up to greet his master, and perhaps most of all, the ingenuous smile of the little urchin leading the calf.

Inscription

Marks and Labels

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Provenance

Commissioned for the Hospital de la Caridad [Hospital of Charity], Seville; removed by government decree to Alcázar, Seville, 1810, from whence it was taken to Paris in 1812 by Marshal Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult, Duke of Dalmatia [1769-1851]; sold 1835 to George Granville Sutherland-Leveson-Gower [1786-1861], 2nd duke of Sutherland, Stafford House, London; by descent through the dukes of Sutherland to George Granville Sutherland-Leveson-Gower [1888-1963], 5th duke of Sutherland; sold 7 January 1948 to (Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd, London); sold 30 December 1948 to the Avalon Foundation, New York;[1] gift 1948 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1836
British Institution, London, 1836, no. 22.
1913
Spanish Old Masters, Grafton Galleries, London, 1913-1914, 88-89, no. 83.
1938
Seventeenth-Century Art in Europe, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1938, no. 217.
1969
In Memoriam, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, unnumbered checklist.
1982
Bartlolomé Esteban Murillo, 1617-1682, Museo del Prado, Madrid; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1982-1983, 200, no. 46, color pl. 46.
2002
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682): Paintings from American Collections, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2002, no. 18, repro.

Bibliography

1787
Ponz, Antonio. Viaje de España. 18 vols. Madrid, 1787-1794: 9:148.
1800
Céan Bermúdez, Juan A. Diccionario histórico de los más ilustres profesores de las bellas artes en España. 6 vols. Madrid, 1800: 2:52.
1824
Buchanan, William. Memoirs of Painting. London, 1824: 43-44.
1829
Réveil, Etienne A. Musée de peinture et de sculpture. 16 vols. Paris, 1829-1834: 5:301.
1844
Jameson, Anna B. Companion to the Most Celebrated Private Galleries of Art in London. London, 1844: 191.
1854
Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of the Chief Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Illuminated Mss.. 3 vols. Translated by Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake. London, 1854: 2:67-68.
1883
Curtis, Charles B. Velázquez and Murillo. New York and London, 1883: 116, 195.
1891
Stirling-Maxwell, William. Annals of the Artists of Spain. 3 vols., London, 1848: 2:864; 3:1431 (also 1891 ed., 4 vols., London, 3:1028; 4:1622).
1892
Justi, Carl. Murillo. Leipzig, 1892: 64, fig. 20.
1896
Gómez Imaz, Manuel. Inventario de los cuadros sustraídos por el Gobierno intruso en Sevilla año de 1810. Seville, 1896: 38-41, 61.
1907
Calvert, Albert F. Murillo: A Biography and Appreciation. London, 1907: 63, 167.
1913
Mayer, August L. Murillo. Klassiker der Kunst, 22. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1913: 126, repro. (also 1923 ed., 12:131, repro.).
1923
Montoto, Santiago. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Estudio biográfico-crítico. Seville, 1923: 97.
1951
Dorival, Bernard. "Callot modèle de Murillo." Revue des Arts. 2 (1951): 94-101.
1952
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 84, color repro.
1960
Evans, Grose. Spanish Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1960 (Booklet Number Ten in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 32, color repro.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 309, repro.
1965
_Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 95.
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:212, color repro.
1968
_European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 84, repro.
1970
Brown, Jonathan. "Hieroglyphs of Death and Salvation: The Decoration of the Church of the Hermandad de la Caridad, Seville." The Art Bulletin 52, no. 3 (September 1970): 265-277, fig. 5. (Reprinted in Images and Ideas in 17th Century Spanish Painting. Princeton, 1978: 128-146.)
1972
Lipschutz, Ilse H. Spanish Painting and the French Romantics. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 37.
1975
_European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 250, repro.
1978
Gaya Nuño, Juan A. L'opera completa di Murillo. Milan, 1978: 109-110, color pl. 53, fig. 253.
1979
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 63, pl. 47.
1980
Valdivieso, Enrique, and Juan Miguel Serrera. El Hospital de la Caridad de Sevilla. Seville, 1980: pl. 38, no. 1.
1981
Angulo Iñiguez, Diego. Murillo: Su vida, su arte, su obra. 3 vols. Madrid, 1981: 1:396-398; 2:86-87, figs. 274-277.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 247, no. 316, color repro.
1985
_European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 290, repro.
1990
Brown, Jonathan, and Richard G. Mann. Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1990: 109-110, color repro. 111.
1992
_Lectionary Homiletics 3, no. 4 (March 1992): 35, repro.
1992
_National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 87, repro.
1997
_Good News, St. Louis, 1997: 9, repro.
1997
Tomlinson, Janis. From El Greco to Goya: Painting in Spain, 1561-1828, New York, 1997, no. 51, repro.
1998
Boeckl, Christine M. “Penitence/Repentance." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. Edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:723.
2001
Horgan, Marta. "The Golden Age of Spanish Art." Washington Parent (April 2001): 14, repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 168-169, no. 128, color repro.

Technical Summary

The picture is executed on a coarse, loosely woven linen support comprised of three pieces of fabric sewn together, the seams horizontal. It is lined, with a narrow strip of tacking edge left intact. The ground is moderately thick and buff colored. The paint is of paste consistency and applied broadly to emphasize the brushwork. The ground and paint layers are largely intact, although there is some flattening of the paint texture and slight abrasion of the readily soluble colors, especially the thinly applied reds and browns and blacks. The paint surface also exhibits wide-aperture, deeply cupped crackle. The varnish is delaminating from the edges of the cracks.

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