Rembrandt and The Prodigal Son

My booksellin’ parents recently happened upon an absolutely gorgeous book—Rembrandt’s Life of Christ. (I’d tell you what a stealio of a dealio it was, but you likely wouldn’t believe it—I didn’t!)

Included in the book is a sketch of the biblical parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The image startled me, because for months I have been reflecting on Rembrandt’s other—famous and finished—painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son (on right). These slow, prolonged reflections were sparked and guided by two books by contemplative Christian writer Henri Nouwen centered around the painting and source parable. They were exercises in confronting emotions such as envy, insecurity, and distrust and in acknowledging the supreme care and providence of God, the Father.

The sketched scene from the book is very different from the painting—rawer, barer, more plain. Yet I see the same gestures and emotions in this flurried, sepia-tone depiction as in the fully realized painting. There, the generous embrace. There, the collapse of shame. There, the envious gaze. Here is a trinity of homecoming and its tensions—a picture of grace given, resisted, and received:

3 thoughts on “Rembrandt and The Prodigal Son”

    1. I’ll be heading to Calvin College next month, actually! (For their faith and writing conference). And yet I had no idea about this collection. Thanks so much for this. Wow.

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