It’s Father’s Day!
When it comes to paintings, the example of what a father should be, the one that most appeals to me, is The Prodigal Son. The subject comes to us from the Bible (Luke 15:11- 32.) One of my favorite paintings of the prodigal is at the Timken Gallery in Balboa Park in San Diego, California.
The artwork titled The Return of the Prodigal Son by Il Guercino is an oil on canvas painted in the mid 17th century. It is a relatively large painting at 61-l/4 x 57-1/2 inches.
When I look at the painting I immediately think of an opera. There are three figures standing on a stage like environment dressed in biblical time attire. An older man stands in the middle of two young men, one dressed in fine clothing pulling back a curtain that will lead to a homecoming feast, the other (the prodigal) barely dressed with only a cloth and animal skins to hide his nakedness.
Each of the three figures has a story to tell the viewer.
Since it is Father’s Day, let’s take a look a closer look at the patriarch of this family. It all begins when his son gets an idea that he should have his inheritance sooner than later. Why not have the money now! The father allows him to take the money. He allows him to make his own decisions and mistakes. Sadly, the son ends up going to a foreign country and mismanaging his money-spending it on all the wrong things.
The son ends up without food, clothing, or a decent place to live. Actually, he ends up living with the pigs. Not a good place for a Jewish boy.
But the thoughtful boy gets a bright idea. He knows his father is a kind and merciful man and that his servants have a better life than he does. The son may be ashamed of what has happened to him but isn’t afraid of the older man. He knows he can count on him. He reasons he can come home and won’t be turned away.
So, he does go home and what happens to him? Does the father beat him for being so stupid? Does he cast him out? No, we see that he forgives him. In this artist rendition the father lovingly cradles him with a special garment, he guides him with his strong arms toward the celebration. The father is thankful that his son who had been lost is now found. He is safe in his father’s care again.
Of course, the lesson of the story is the love of God for his own children. We can be forgiven and return to the comfort of the ultimate Father. We can start over again.
But, what about the other figure? Is he the son who stayed, or the servant? What do you think?
See the painting at
Timken Gallery online or in person at the Timken Gallery in Balboa Park, San Diego https://www.instagram.com/p/BGcf0UZBgkT/?taken-by=timkenmuseum