by Anne Mrosowski
The Dutchman Rembrandt van Rijn is considered one of the most important Baroque artists and left behind an enormous number of self-portraits in addition to portraits, depictions of landscapes, biblical and mythological pictorial themes. The self-portrait as the Prodigal Son in the Inn shows the artist in an exuberant pose with his wife Saskia. The picture was painted between 1634 and 1638, the years of the artist's career peak. Saskia, whom the painter married for love in 1634, also secured a certain prosperity for the otherwise penniless Rembrandt.
The background of the work is the biblical parable of the prodigal son. In this parable, the second-born son of a rich man is paid his share of the inheritance and takes it to a distant country. There he squanders his money on food and women and after a while has to suffer from hunger. He decides to return to his father and work for him as a day laborer. His father, however, gladly accepts him back as his son, equips him with noble clothes and a rich feast is celebrated.
The painting combines numerous pictorial objects that underline the joyful frenzy of the artist: Rembrandt, dressed in noble clothes and wearing a luxuriant feathered hat, joyfully toasts the recipient with a raised beer glass. With his left hand he coquettishly gathers the skirt of Saskia, who is depicted from behind and also directs her gaze towards the viewer. A peacock cock in the background, the noble fabrics and the golden coloring of the scene support the haughty, voluptuous depiction.
The painting was originally designed by Rembrandt as a landscape format, presumably as a classical tavern scene with several people. From 1638, however, the artist reworked the version: he trimmed the left edge of the picture and painted over a nude flute player before he worked the painting into a double portrait. The work thus allows for two interpretive positions: on the one hand, that of the inn scene from the story of the prodigal son, and on the other, as a relationship painting that captured his love for his wife Saskia. When Saskia died in 1642, Rembrandt fell into a severe psychological crisis.
Rembrandt - Self-portrait with Saskia
Oil on canvas, around 1636, 161 x 131 cm, Old Masters Picture Gallery, Dresden
Rembrandt - the prodigal son
Oil on canvas, 1669, 206 x 262 cm
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg