Sunday, November 11, 2007

Meditating on the Loving Father

The parable of the Loving Father, a.k.a. the Prodigal Son, has captured my attention this weekend. My favorite depiction of the parable is by Rembrandt. I post his work from the Web Gallery of Art for your reflection and meditation this Lord's Day.

The Return of the Prodigal Son
c. 1669
Oil on canvas, 262 x 206 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Artistic Commentary from the Web Gallery of Art
Rembrandt's final word is given in his monumental painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son. Here he interprets the Christian idea of mercy with an extraordinary solemnity, as though this were his spiritual testament to the world. It goes beyond the works of all other Baroque artists in the evocation of religious mood and human sympathy. The aged artist's power of realism is not diminished, but increased by psychological insight and spiritual awareness. Expressive lighting and colouring and the magic suggestiveness of his technique, together with a selective simplicity of setting, help us to feel the full impact of the event.

The main group of the father and the Prodigal Son stands out in light against an enormous dark surface. Particularly vivid are the ragged garment of the son, and the old man's sleeves, which are ochre tinged with golden olive; the ochre colour combined with an intense scarlet red in the father's cloak forms an unforgettable colouristic harmony. The observer is roused to a feeling of some extraordinary event. The son, ruined and repellent, with his bald head and the appearance of an outcast, returns to his father's house after long wanderings and many vicissitudes. He has wasted his heritage in foreign lands and has sunk to the condition of a swineherd. His old father, dressed in rich garments, as are the assistant figures, has hurried to meet him before the door and receives the long-lost son with the utmost fatherly love.

The occurrence is devoid of any momentary violent emotion, but is raised to a solemn calm that lends to the figures some of the qualities of statues and gives the emotions of a lasting character, no longer subject to the changes of time. Unforgettable is the image of the repentant sinner leaning against his father's breast and the old father bending over his son. The father's features tell of a goodness sublime and august; so do his outstretched hands, not free from the stiffness of old age. The whole represents a symbol of all homecoming, of the darkness of human existence illuminated by tenderness, of weary and sinful mankind taking refuge in the shelter of God's mercy.


Rex Ray said...

Rembrandt’s painting is touching, but it’s not in keeping with Scripture as to the location of the reunion and the father’s age. Also the father looks like he could be half blind.

In his painting, the locating is in the father’s home, and the father looks more old and feeble that the guy with the cane.

The Scripture says. “…But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him…He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

So the location was on a road or pasture land, and the father was probably in his 50’s or younger since he chose to run. Recognizing him a long way off, meant the father had good eyesight.

The touching part of the Bible account was the father was probably constantly looking for his son. He didn’t just by chance see him. He could have had one of his servants on the constant look-out, but his heart longed for his return and he stayed on watch.

Such is with our heavenly Father. He longs to see us.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Rex, my friend, let's enjoy the painting for what it is: a work of art. An artistic interpretation of a Bible story--one of the most well-known, in fact. I understand your concern for accuracy, but Rembrandt was interpreting the story using images and concepts from his own culture. Plus, the focus is not on the details you describe, but the tenderness between the begging, pleading son and the father embracing him. Nevertheless, even if he did get it all wrong, the man was an artistic genius. Let's just enjoy his art for art's sake.

Anonymous said...

Emily, this is a topic I too have been wrestling with..well, the loving father part. God is showing me that he longs to love me, to embrace me, to hold me..but I have to let him. Thanks for the reminder...Lory