Thursday, March 10, 2011

the Prodigal and the Father

Sometimes I make studies that are copies of the work of a famous artist, in this case, Rembrandt van Rijn. Copying a great work is a time-honored tradition for those who study art. By copying one can see the work  with more intelligence and feel, perhaps, what the intent might have been behind those brushstrokes.
I read a book a few years ago during this time of Lent, that was profoundly devotional and about Art. The title is "The Return of the Prodigal Son, A Story of Homecoming" by Henri J.M. Nouwen. (available on Amazon)
Henri Nouwen focuses the entire book on a painting by Rembrandt "Return of the Prodigal Son". This great masterpiece is on display in the The Hermitage, St. Petersburg. (What I would give to travel to see that museum.) 
Nouwen goes into great detail about the meaning of the parable, told by Jesus in the New Testament, and also about Rembrandt the artist. As I read this book, I was struck by the many separate parts of the painting that Nouwen was able to bring forth and make vividly real with his descriptions. For instance, Nouwen notices that the two hands of the Father are not alike. The right hand (left as we look at the picture) is quite feminine, and the left hand is masculine. I had to find a larger image than the one supplied with the book to get the impact. Did Rembrandt mean to picture the Father as both feminine and masculine? Also the prodigal son who has his face buried in the lap of his father is kind of bald, in fact he resembles a newborn baby. Maybe to show his absolute helplessness?
As a devotional practice I copied a part of the painting with just the hands and the son's face. It was very meaningful as I drew, and thought, while I was drawing about the words and meanings of this story.

Here is a small image of the real masterpiece by Rembrandt and also the cover of the book by Henri Nouwen.

The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1669 Rembrandt van Rijn