Scenes from the Life of the Prodigal Son

Object Details

Title:

Scenes from the Life of the Prodigal Son

Artist/Maker(s):

Master of Saint Christopher (Flemish, active first half of 16th century)

Culture:

Flemish

Place(s):

Netherlands (Place created)

Date:

about 1530

Medium:

Pen and brown ink and gray wash, over traces of black chalk

Dimensions:

19.2 x 51.4 cm (7 9/16 x 20 1/4 in.)

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Pieter Coecke van Aelst combined various scenes into a continuous narrative that proceeds left to right like a cartoon strip. The prodigal son takes leave of his father, lavishes his money on worldly pleasures at a brothel, gets chased away by prostitutes, lands in a pigsty, and finally reconciles with his father. In the 1500s, this popular parable taught about the sin of extravagance and the virtue of forgiveness. In contrast to the text of the Bible, which emphasizes the father's final act of forgiveness, artists and patrons of that period often focused lively attention on the brothel scene. Coecke set it further forward than the rest of the action, with the detailed landscape and architectural passages of the other episodes forming an elaborate backdrop. Emphasizing attractive outlines, he filled the entire drawing with elegantly proportioned figures. Scholars believe that the drawing's large scale and horizontal format suggest that Coecke might have made it as a tapestry design.

Exhibitions
16th Century Northern European Drawings (February 18 to May 2, 1992)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum, (Malibu), February 18 to May 2, 1992, (Cat.)
Drawings from the J. Paul Getty Museum (May 24 to August 8, 1993)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (New York), May 24 to August 8, 1993, (Cat. 28)
Drawings from the J. Paul Getty Museum (October 29, 1993 to January 23, 1994)
  • Royal Academy of Arts (London), October 29, 1993 to January 23, 1994, (Cat. 73)
Flemish Drawings of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (August 29 to November 12, 1995)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum, (Malibu), August 29 to November 12, 1995, (Cat.)
Peter Paul Rubens and the Art of Drawing in Flanders (August 29 to October 22, 2000)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), August 29 to October 22, 2000, (Cat.)
Work and Play: Everyday Life in Drawings; 1520 - 1820 (July 31 to October 14, 2001)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), July 31 to October 14, 2001, (Cat.)
Made for Manufacture: Drawings for Sculpture and the Decorative Arts (March 31 to July 5, 2009)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), March 31 to July 5, 2009, (Cat.)
Drawing in the Age of Rubens (October 14, 2014 to January 11, 2015)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), October 14, 2014 to January 11, 2015, (Cat.)