Parable of the Prodigal Son
For many centuries, the Bible has been an inexhaustible source of inspiration for artists, poets, and writers. Without pretending to be innovative, let us see how three great artists broke the same parable in the crystal of their work.
The parable of the prodigal son says that the son left home, and returned naked and bos. His father accepted him, ordered him to stab his fat calf in honor of his son’s return. In the era of religious wars, violent peasant uprisings, Jacquerie and Bashmak, this parable was very relevant and two great contemporaries, Bosch and Durer turned to this story, showing us different facets and causes “Prodigal sons.” The third of the great artists considered here, Rembrandt, was born eighty years later, after the death of the youngest, Dürer, in a quieter era and his interpretation of the parable is much quieter than the work of Bosch and, especially, Dürer.
Hieronymus Bosch (1460 – 1516) showed us a young man who returns home, having suffered a defeat in the struggle with life circumstances. Let’s take a closer look. Tired, and I want to say “dear young man”, returns without making wealth, without bringing a young wife, hiding from adversity under the parent wing. This is clearly not an adventurer who is willing to engage in landsknechts in order to make a fortune by robbery, which is completely permitted at that time. Not from such people will be recruited conquistador units, which will make themselves fabulous condition, in order to return to Europe and die in poverty, on a pile of straw.
Rather, this young man left a completely prosperous family in pursuit of the bird of happiness. She might have taken on the look of some beautiful girl in his eyes. Maybe he is unbearably tired of burgher life, with continuous teachings, prohibitions, work from dark to dark in a stable, along with hired hands. He wanted something lighter and lighter. These are all our conjectures based on the pleasant, albeit sad appearance of a young man. The young man has only one leg shod, on the other just something in the form of a slipper. Behind his shoulders is a wicker box, judging by the way he bumps into his shoulders, the box is not completely empty. On the belt of the young man is quite a decent dagger. This is not a drunkard and drunkard. But his knees were open, one leg was bandaged. So he goes to lick his wounds. Where he earned a wound, we do not know. Whether he got it in the course of one of the uprisings, or whether a religious dispute turned into a fight, is not resolved now.
What does he see? The picture does not show the joy of the household, at the sight of the prodigal son. On the contrary, he is met with vigilance and disorder. Perhaps he has not yet reached his court and sees neighbors who are not interested in him, who are busy with their business, not paying attention to the devastation around them. The dog barely recognizes him, she does not rush to his chest, as they meet their beloved master. The dog does not grin, but does not express friendliness. The surrounding buildings are showing signs of decline. Several pigs and piglets do not change the overall picture. A shutter on one hinge, a torn roof, makes this clear. In the manger there is a “well-fed calf”, but others are not visible. Despondency and desolation emanates from this work. This is a story about the house from which the soul has left. Will Joy return to this house, we do not know, it is also an unfinished story. The young man has not yet received parental forgiveness and affection.
Bosch’s younger contemporary, the great artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), approached the parable in a completely different way. We do not know whether Durer, who was born in Nuremberg, met with Bosch, but his engraving leaves no doubt about the further fate of the House, which adopted the Prodigal Son. At first glance, everything in the picture breathes peace. The very fat little body stands quietly, pigs feed. In the courtyard, a rooster is swarming, ducks are splashing, but the signs of decline are even more pronounced than in Bosch’s picture. Trees and bushes on the houses, the fractured facades of the houses – this yard clearly does not shine with prosperity.