Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Closer Look at Rembrandt's "The Return of the Prodigal Son"

Rembrandt's painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son” is a painting that has gone down in history as one of the most moving in the retelling of this loved bible parable from the bible. It is a story that has great meaning and an ending that is not the greatest (more on that later).

What amazes me is when people use this painting to drive a point in a blog or message they crop it down to where the father is hugging his son. This is all you see usually. The true beauty of this painting lies in the shadows. When you click on the image of this painting (go ahead…click on the image…I will wait) you begin to see something perhaps a little different. Notice in the top left you see a face faded into the background? It is easy to see the three people to the right of the father but look closely at the top left. Some would say that is the brother that is feeling completely bitter by this whole scenario.

Isn’t it something how we tend to dwell on the father and son and don’t give a whole lot of thought to other things going on in this story? I get it that this is a picture of redemption, forgiveness, etc. Perhaps this is a story of many other things as well. Perhaps this is a story that if ever turned into a movie it would be considered a flop because the ending is on the likes of the first “Lord of the Rings” where it just ends abruptly. Many questions are raised here like did the Prodigal son take the reprobate path and end up relapsing? Did the older brother ever find forgiveness towards his brother? Will the father give his son ANOTHER inheritance? Did the family ultimately reconcile? I think this story ends like many situations in our lives…there is no definitive ending…it is what it is and we may never have the answer for what we went through.

Back to the brother…isn’t it something that one of the most important parts about this painting gets cut off? I can relate to the brother sometimes. This is another theme we can pick up from this painting. Have you ever felt like you are left in the shadows while great things are going on all around you? Do you ever feel like life is passing you up and you are just this figure in the background? Well, let me tell you that like the brother…you are still a part of the story and you are still a part of the painting. In fact you are one of the main points of this piece of art and though we don’t know how the story ultimately turned out for the brother in this story…you can show people how your story will play out. Don’t give up on the big picture because just when you don’t think people notice you…guess what? I and many others notice you.


  1. I have always loved this story and how the prodigal was welcomed back so graciously. No condemnation. Yet I did wonder..when will this self righteous brother be humbled and join the party? I believe the invitation was left open for him, he could go in any time he wanted. All I can do is hope that he did. But he certainly is free to stand outside in the dark if he wants to.