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Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son” Painting

The work of art titled The Return of the Prodigal Son is one of the most insightful and significant oil paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn. This masterpiece depicts the final episode of one of the Bible narratives: a reunion of a long-wandering son with his father accompanied by forgiveness and mercy. The scene is artfully painted, creating a specific mood and sensation. Rembrandt’s play of light and shadow allows focusing on notable characters and details. A number of essential topics are covered within this work of art. Distinguished and highly talented painter succeeded in telling a story through his painting and conveyed several meanings covering the importance and power of boundless parental love, mercy, and compassion. However, revealing the variety of its senses occurs partly because of knowing precisely the Bible narrative background of the masterpiece.

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The predominance of dark shadows sets off details that eloquently narrate the story behind. The painting portrays the erring son in a shattered state while the father and the brother are neatly wearing. The richness and colorfulness of the father’s clothes presuppose the family’s wealth. On the contrary, the long-lost son “with his bald head and the appearance of an outcast” reflects hardships and tribulations which he experienced because of his own decisions (Warshaw 205). The contrast between the father and his prodigal son is enough to draw conclusions. The observer may assume that the son has returned home in a pathetic state from travels in which he has wasted his heritage and slipped into poverty and misery. His spoiled clothes and body condition means that he was wandering before daring to return to his father for a long time. Moreover, such contradistinction defines how individuals who waste their resources end up in a poor state while those who utilize their resources appropriately keep getting more fortunes.

The Return of the Prodigal Son highlights the significance of affirmative spiritual human values and implies humankind’s relationship with the divine. One of the powerful messages conveyed by the panting is the mean of humanity and forgiveness. Instead of punishing the long-lost son, the father shows mercy on him, thanks for returning safe, and forgives all the son’s wrongdoings. From the piece, the father is seen celebrating the return of his unfaithful son and “hurried to meet him before the door… with the utmost fatherly love” (Warshaw 205). The parent-children relationship is one of the most valuable topics of the piece veiling the God-human relation. According to Suthor, the moral of The Return of the Prodigal Son interprets by “the father’s unconditional love as a subject for consideration” (156). Within depicting father-son reunion, the painting “represents a symbol of all homecomings, of the darkness of human existence illuminated by tenderness, of weary and sinful mankind taking refuge in the shelter of God’s mercy” (Warshaw 205). Thus, The Return of the Prodigal Son tells reach story behind the depicted scene and reflects several essential human values like mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. It also highlights the power and limitlessness of parental love and, thereby, God’s love and mercy.

Through the prism of the image, observers see the whole story and an abundance of meanings, especially if the picture is reinforced with complementary intelligence. In a work entitled Ways of Seeing, describing the painting of Van Gogh, Berger says: “The image… illustrates the sentence” (28). Berger’s point is that additional information about the image results in people not simply seeing the picture but come up with narration beyond the image. This quote is straightforward but meaningful: going through the supplementary information, personal experiences, attitudes, and perceptions, every painting obtains a broad meaning. Therefore, Berger’s statement is applicable to Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, which illustrates many values and can be interpreted in different ways. It is well-known that the piece was painted with the aim of depicting the Bible narrative, and this fact defines observers’ flow of thoughts. Berger’s assertion supports this paper’s thesis that emphasizes depth, eloquence, history, and meanings of the masterpiece partly due to the notoriety of the background of the painting.

Thus, perception of the pictures is often affected by diverse factors and may flow far away from the painter’s considerations. In his book, Berger talks about the distortion of the initial sense of works of art: the understanding of an individual may “has little or nothing to do with the painting’s original independent meaning” (28). Moreover, the perception of the image is shaped regarding what the observer sees directly before or after (Berger 29). This feature explains the variety of senses found in The Return of the Prodigal Son. With knowledge of history, broader inferences were formed, even if Rembrandt did not reflect on these meanings initially.

Rembrandt’s oil painting The Return of the Prodigal Son depicts the biblical story about the long-lost son returning to his father. While reflecting on this piece, some insights arose: the story, importance of such values as mercy and forgiveness, power and boundlessness of parental love, and the connection with the divine. However, illustrating all these meanings is somewhat a result of background awareness that forces observers’ minds to generate senses and sometimes distorts the painter’s original considerations.

Works Cited

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing: Based on the BBC Television Series. Penguin Books, 1990.

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Suthor, Nicola. Rembrandt’s Roughness. Princeton University Press, 2018.

Warshow, Nealson. Rembrandt: Details. Nealson Warshow, 2014.

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