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The Prodigal Son in the Tavern (Self Portrait with Saskia on her Lap)

Painting, 1637, 161×131 cm

Description of the artwork «The Prodigal Son in the Tavern (Self Portrait with Saskia on her Lap)»


For the 17th century Protestant Netherlands, the parable of the prodigal son is one of the most popular, beloved and, one might say, archetypal. The moral deducted from it is this: you do not have to be an ascetic, eat only “acridas and wild honey” and work sweat so that at the end of the journey the Lord, your heavenly Father, opens his arms for you. The Catholics convinced that God would reward according to deeds; everything was fair and proportionate. Protestantism objected: no, you cannot buy salvation at least three times with good deeds - it depends only on the will and goodness of the Almighty.

At the end of the journey, old Rembrandt writes the ingenious “Return of the prodigal son”, The final scene of the biblical parable and, in a sense, the result of life. But Rembrandt, 30-31 years old, recently happily married and at the forefront of his professional glory, has not yet looked so far. He is interested in what the prodigal son is busy when he left home, squandering his father’s inheritance and living to the fullest.

A decade and a half before Rembrandt picture on the same plot wrote a dutchmanGerrit van Honhorst. There, too, a tavern, a raised glass, intoxicating "prodigal sons" in hats with plumes squeeze languid girls with reduced social responsibility. Rather, it’s not historical painting, but genre painting, in a modern way. So what then is the innovation of Rembrandt, an artist who has already managed to make a name for himself on the fact that he does not tolerate platitudes and whose decisions of familiar subjects are always unexpected and unusual? The non-triviality of the Rembrandt prodigal son is that the artist shows himself in his role!

«... he needed something more than extras casually dressed up and dressed in modern costumes- explains Simon Shama in the book "Eyes of Rembrandt", - abouthe plunges into this role with his head, turns the prodigal son into a recognizable street dandy with ostrich feathers on his hat, with a wrong bite and with a sword with a tasteless, screaming golden hilt. All this together makes a strange, disturbing impression. If you see a biblical parable and a modern genre canvas in the picture, then the contrast between the drunken depraved grin of the prodigal son and the cold and penetrating gaze of the courtesan is felt especially sharply and causes the viewer the same semblance of shock as paintings by Jan Stenon which the artist also appears to smithereens the drunken client of the inn. So this is not Rembrandt. And on the other hand, this is Rembrandt. Or is it Rembrandt, personifying all of us at the same time ... "

If Rembrandt is trying on the role of a libertine, then his wife Saskia van Eilenburg gets the role of a whore. Simon Shama calls her look cold and insightful, and allegories in the picture seem to also warn of the inevitability of punishment. The peacock is a symbol of empty vanity and unrighteous wealth. The board on which the invoice is written in the tarate portends an early reckoning. However, another Rembrandt researcher, Melissa Ricketts, on the contrary, calls Saskia the courtesan look condescending, as if she was at the same time with Rembrandt. So, however, it was in reality.

Van Loo, relatives of Saskia, at about the same time when Rembrandt wrote “The Prodigal Son in the Tavern”, filed a lawsuit against the artist and his wife: they believed that they live beyond their means, ruining money, bathing in luxury and wasting an inheritance Saskia at auctions. Van Loo was indignant, like that first son of a parable who did not go anywhere and did not waste anything, they wanted justice and proportionality. But the lawsuit Rembrandt and Saskia, interestingly, won. They managed to prove that their expenses were within their means. "Without any boast- read the representative of Rembrandt in court, - he and his wife possess immense and inexhaustible wealth, for which they do not tire of thanking the Almighty Lord! ” Rembrandt from a self-portrait with Saskia on her lap, raising a glass higher, as if echoing to his lawyer: “Amen!”
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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Portrait

Style of art: Baroque, The Golden age of Holland

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1637

Size: 161×131 cm

Artwork in selections: 21 selections