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: The Prodigal Son: Teniers and Ghezzi


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) first appears as a subject in the visual arts in Byzantine manuscripts from the second half of the eleventh century. In the West representations occur in twelfth-century sculpture, in manuscript illumination and stained glass (Chartres, Bourges, Sens, Poitiers, and Auxerre) in the thirteenth century, and in a number of tapestries dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.1 In painting, the prodigal son enjoys particular popularity between 1500 and 1700, especially among—though not confined to—northern artists, after which the number of representations steadily declines.2 The differences in treatment of this ostensibly common theme in Western art provide an index of class attitudes, artistic styles, religious and cultural tendencies. The subject of this article concerns two paintings of the prodigal son in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts which are significantly untraditional in the manner in which the parable is treated.From the early days of the Church and throughout the Middle Ages, the parable was the subject of intense exegesis. Its explications, such as those found in late medieval visionary poems of the various Pélerinages, typically present it as a cosmically broad and complex allegory, the ultimate meaning revolving around man's redemption through repentance and the mercy of God. Allegorically, for example, the “certain man” St. Luke refers to was said to be God the Father, while his “two sons” were the Jews and the nations. The inheritance they shared represented man's life on earth governed by free will. The prodigal son—variously understood as Everyman or Adam—squandered his wealth with “riotous living.” The proportion of his sin was specified by the resultant “mighty famine in that land,” explained as the intense spiritual hunger caused by a life of vice and the consequent separation from God. Filled with repentance he eventually returns to the house of his father, who, seeing him still a long way off, runs to him, “falls on his neck, and kisses him.” This gesture was held to represent the forgiveness and compassion of God, ultimately manifested in the birth and passion of Christ, whose resurrection gave hope for eternal happiness—the “fatted calf,” which, in the parable, the father orders slaughtered for a feast to celebrate his son's return, was said to signify the crucified Christ.3In paintings, the prodigal son is usually treated in the medieval manner: combining in a single picture the most salient aspects of the story, but showing only one scene in detail and close up-the other incidents usually being placed in the background.4 However, the complex allegory developed through medieval exegesis—which is visually reflected in a number of tapestries, including the one in Minneapolis—gradually disappears in pictures from the sixteenth century. Instead of representing a complex, indirect statement about Man's fall from grace and his redemption through the Incarnation, these pictures tend to reduce the substance of the parable to a general warning against luxury in the broadest sense and against sexual dissipation in particular. This change is reflected in the fact that perhaps the single most popular part of the story illustrated by northern artists was the prodigal's “riotous living” among the courtesans (the scriptural source is the brief remark made by the elder brother who, reacting negatively to his father's planned celebration for his brother's return, reminds his father that the young man “hath devoured thy living with harlots” [Luke 15:30]). Furthermore, in a number of representations the medieval allegorical impact of the parable is further eroded by the treatment of the dissipation scene among the prostitutes with such inviting gusto and elegance that a viewer might easily miss the subsidiary scenes clarifying the wages of these sins. As the century progresses, many such depictions move very close to the essentially secular. Considered in this light, the subject proves extremely important to the development of northern genre painting. The dissipation scene, often portrayed as a contemporaneous banquet, gave artists the chance to depict the “things” surrounding them in everyday life: food, tableware, flowers, costumes, animals, playing cards and parlor games, as well as architecture and landscape. In point of fact, it “was a subject often used by circumspect artists desirous of making genre pictures yet not wanting to be held impious or unmannerly.”5The Prodigal Son Among the Courtesans attributed to the sixteenth-century Flemish master Frans Pourbus the Elder (1545-1581) is typical (figure 1). The story moves in circular fashion, starting on the right where (in a tiny scene above the head of the male musician) the son takes leave of his father, whose rich estate occupies the upper right corner. At the extreme right edge of the picture he appears on his “journey into a far country” (Luke 15:13) where his final decline will occur. That ultimate spiritual debacle occupies the central portion of the panel, where the prodigal wastes his inheritance among the courtesans. In the upper left, penniless and in his underclothes, he is driven off by a harlot wielding a broom. Continuing the circle across the top center, he competes at the trough for “the husks that the swine did eat” (Luke 15:16). Finally, at the upper right, the circle is completed. The prodigal is welcomed back by his father who comes out of his estate to meet him on a bridge, the crossing of which presumably signals his transmission from a life of sin to one of grace. In other words, the basic message of the parable remains intact, if the viewer wants to squint for it. But the moral is not really what has occupied the attentions of the artist. On the contrary, Pourbus has done little more than pay lip service to it in tiny subordinate scenes. Instead, it is the possibilities for genre inherent in the central scene that have received almost all the emphasis.Joining together with the others around a lavishly spread table,6 the prodigal makes music as he reads from a partbook held by an elegant courtesan. With one hand he caresses her breast, while with the other he balances a goblet filled to the brim with wine (the innkeeper at the right keeps the tab). A fool stands behind the young man and probably serves a double function: he signals to the viewer the folly of the prodigal's behavior, and at the same time he very likely picks his pocket—the sinner being duly distracted by the woman, the music, and the drink.Among seventeenth-century painters treating Bible stories as genre was Frans Francken the Younger (1581-1642). In his Prodigal Son among the Courtesans (figure 2), dated about 1630, the story is told in a manner similar to that of Pourbus, although the composition is so lavish that it possesses a fairytale quality. The objets have increased almost geometrically. The primary scene among the harlots is virtually overflowing with food (note the cooked bird stuffed back into its feathers!), tableware, musical instruments, and drapery. A knife rests precariously on the table edge, ready to tumble to the floor which is already littered with spilled playing cards and discarded oyster shells. Francken, apparently wanting an excuse to paint even more little objects, has even chosen to include a subordinate scene in the upper center showing the prodigal in the well-stocked pawn shop of a money lender—there is no scriptural basis for the inclusion of such a scene.This painting, like the Prodigal Son by Pourbus, is entirely typical of the treatment afforded this subject by northern artists during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This leads us to a most interesting picture in the collection of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a Prodigal Son among the Courtesans (figure 3) by the Flemish painter David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690), which deviates significantly from the established norm.Teniers' setting is highly atypical, if not unique, among Flemish representations of this subject.7 Here there is none of the lavishness or elegance seen in Pourbus and Francken. Instead of a palace terrace and a background filled with richly decorated architecture, Teniers presents a sparse interior, at best petit bourgeois. There is little that is fanciful. Unlike the painting by Francken where the architectural details are a mixture of the renaissance and the imaginary, Teniers gives us a northern setting, clearly hinted at by the view through the open door where the ubiquitous stepgable of a Flemish house is identifiable. Inside, a reckoning board on the wall to the right of the open door signals a public house and that a tab is being kept of the food and drink. On a table to the left are a pitcher, two glasses, and loaves of crusty, round bread. A wine cooler stands below the table. In the center the prodigal holds out his glass to be filled, while two courtesans wait to join him in a cake for dessert. The less-than-appetizing remnants of their chicken dinner remain on the table. A serving woman with a rather knowing look on her coarse face exchanges a word with the harlot with her back to us while, at the rear, two poorly dressed musicians perform for the assemblage. No one seems to be enjoying the proceedings in the least; an atmosphere of boredom pervades. The prodigal, dressed in a somewhat frazzled but formerly elegant costume, is about to lose the last of his possessions. Already having placed his outer garments, including his sword (the last measure of his defense?), on the chair in the right foreground, he is in effect but half-dressed or, if considered in terms of medieval exegesis, in the process of squandering the last measure of the garments of innocence and immortality. Through the open door a little vignette confirms the outcome: left with only his underwear, he is driven off with a shoe by one harlot who has robbed him, while a second empties what is probably a chamber pot on his head from a second story window.8 It remains unclear whether or not he made use of the discreetly curtained bed looming in the background of the main scene.A few other pictorial details probably deserve a word of explication, although almost all of the objects in the scene can be understood as pure and simple genre. The dog, for example, an age—old attribute of fidelity, may well be used here in an ironic sense. Standing near the doorway, he seems ready to flee—in the same manner that the “love” enjoyed by the major participants is ephemeral.9 With a similar comment in mind Teniers has decorated the legs of the dinner table with the heads of dolphins, significantly, an attribute of love,10 although here, judging from their slightly sagging lower jaws, the passion may well be exhausted. Significantly, one dolphin points toward the prodigal son and the other toward the courtesan whose back is to us, perhaps emphasizing the anonymity and detachment of it all. Finally, dressed as a human, is a little monkey, chained to a ball and eating an apple. Teniers, who painted pictures entirely “peopled” with these little characters, usually in the act of parodying human endeavors, most surely intended by the animal's presence an oblique—although not very subtle—comment on the proceedings. The monkey is an ancient symbol of luxury and vanity. Often depicted with a mirror in hand and fascinated by what he sees, he becomes a slave of his senses, losing himself in self-love. That he is a slave, that is, bound, is emphasized by Teniers in his use of a ball and chain. What he is slave to is made clear by the apple, an attribute of Venus and of love, which he unenthusiastically eats.11 What we have, then, is the prodigal son as a slave to the vanity of venal love.The last subject to be discussed in terms of the visual content of Teniers' painting is music. Iconographically speaking, it is in several respects the most interesting thing about the picture. The two musicians furnishing entertainment with a flute and violin without doubt represent poor itinerants, such as typically traversed the countryside in Teniers' own time, moving from village to village and quite literally playing for their dinners. They were among the few really fulltime and “professional” musicians of the period, aside from those retained by the Court (who themselves were considered no more than servants), and they were roundly and universally despised. Two points of particular significance can be made here: the first explicating the symbolism of the instruments; the second explaining why Teniers chose lower-class musicians for this scene—aside from the obvious fact that they “fit” the rather tawdry setting.The symbolism attached to the flute was direct. Wind instruments in general, at least since the Greeks, have been associated with sex, whether on the basis of their shape (phallic), their sound (the arousing Dionysian winds, as opposed to the soothing Apollonian strings), or both.12 That the sexual connotation of these instruments was not lost on the seventeenth century is clear from the fact that rarely—even in straightforward, more or less documentary genre scenes—does one find any kind of wind instrument in the hands of a woman. It was considered undignified for a lady to use them. Thus, in the painting by Frans Pourbus, where the woman on the left is shown not only holding but actually playing a flute (although he has mistakenly made her hold it backwards), the licentious significance was immediately made clear to his viewers, however innocent it may appear to us. The sexual symbolism of the shawm played by the male on the right in the same picture is even more obvious. The phallic shape of the instrument itself, together with the puffed-out cheeks of the male playing it, describes rather graphically the male genitalia. In this respect, it is noteworthy that one of the first northern artists to depict the prodigal son among the courtesans, Johannes De Hemessen (c. 1500-after 1563),13 included a mouth-blown bagpipe which, with its chanter pipe and large wind sack, explicitly alludes to the male sex organs. (Both the shawm and the bagpipe are double-reed instruments—the shawm is the forerunner of the modern oboe—and thus are related to the Dionysian auloi of ancient Greece.)Francken, a painter who influenced Teniers, in another representation of this subject14 includes a man playing a pipe and tabor. In one hand he fingers the one-hand flute, while with the other he beats a small drum suspended from his waist. The little pipe carries the sexual allusion, but the combination of the two emphasizes the vanity of the whole undertaking by visually representing a popular Flemish proverb: “Met het trommeltje gewonnen, met het fluitje verteerd” (“What is gained with the drum is lost with the flute”). Finally, the lutes included by both Pourbus and Francken allude to sex by the nature of their shape—their vaulted backs replicate the bulge of the womb—as well as to a popular proverb of the time which stated that the beautiful sound of the lute helped one gain favors. The presence of these instruments in such settings is not merely symbolic; it has a basis in fact. Music provided an atmosphere conducive for the preliminaries to prostitution. Gosson in his Schoole of Abuse (1579) points out that harlots, gathering in taverns where they were welcomed because they brought in customers, “placed beside them a musical instrument in order to pretend that men who frequented the house came ‘like children, to be taught.’”15What remains to be considered is Teniers' use of lower-class professional musicians in this scene, something of an iconographical anomaly. Biographical data helps explain his choice. Born at Antwerp in 1610, Teniers became a member of the painters' Guild of St. Luke at age twenty-two; he later became its dean. Consciously upwardly mobile, he had the good fortune to marry the daughter of painter Jan Breughel the Elder, who, since the death of her father in 1625, had been the ward of the great Rubens. Teniers made it a point throughout his career to align himself with men of wealth and position, and this association with Rubens, who witnessed his marriage and took him into his circle, significantly advanced him in this objective. In 1651 Teniers moved to Brussels where he accepted an appointment from the Court to serve as its painter, as well as the keeper of and purchasing agent for Archduke Leopold William's extensive art collection. His success at Court and as a painter to a wealthy audience was so great that he was able to achieve a long-term goal by acquiring a country estate and becoming a landed gentleman.16It has been called surprising that Teniers, being something of a social climber, “should have applied himself to scenes of low life in view of his ambitions.”17 In point of fact, it is not surprising at all. Teniers understood that his upperclass patrons sought in art an idealized representation of their own way of life—or, equally pleasant, art which reproduced in amusing manner the spectacle of the little people. His genre pictures of low life, in other words, were consciously designed for the diversion of l'homme de goût. They were realistic but not shocking. Essentially decorative and recreative, these pictures supplied reassurance of social status, for in their visual anecdote they reaffirmed class distinctions, with the viewer-patron on the top looking down. The audience for this sort of representation was enormous, so much so that a whole export trade developed in Flanders during the period. (The demand for Teniers' own pictures was so great that he employed numerous assistants, which may account for the decline in quality of his late works.) Among the genre artists in Flanders interested in low life scenes, Adriaen Brouwer (1605-1638), who for a brief time may have served as Teniers' teacher, stands practically alone in bluntly representing the lot of the common man. While in Brouwer there is sympathy, in Teniers and a host of painters like him there is satire. Not surprisingly, Teniers was the more successful of the two.18 Thus, while the musicians—like the rest of the characters populating the prodigal son painting—have the look of dishevelment and bad times about them, they are painted in a way that inspires the viewer to smile more than to frown in contemplation of their condition.In addition to the fact that amusingly painted lower-class types generally pleased his audience, one other factor in particular helps explain Teniers' musical choices in the painting. Like many of the bourgeoisie and nobility for whom he painted, Teniers was an amateur musician, which is not surprising in light of the fact that to be considered a gentleman it was virtually de rigueur that one play an instrument. Music was so much a part of the daily activity of the wealthy that, if they could afford it, they set aside a room in their houses expressly for this purpose. Gonzales Coques (1618-1684) and other painters who specialized in society portraits, often show well-placed families with their collections of instruments (or stage-prop instruments in cases where the sitters were not actually musicians but, understanding the convention, wanted posterity to think they were!). Unlike the lower-class “professional” musicians in Teniers' painting who—distastefully—made their living by music, the upperclass amateurs enjoyed it as recreation. Well-to-do amateurs found professional musicians so disconcerting, as well as vulgar, that they even disdained their instruments. The most significant example of this discrimination is the violin, such as that played by the poor itinerant in Tenier's painting. Because this instrument was associated with the lower classes, the nobility and upper bourgeoisie would have no part of it. Instead, they preferred the viols. The undeserved bad reputation of the violin persisted in this musically conservative region until near the end of the seventeenth century. Even in the eighteenth century, visual documentation exists to suggest that the old prejudices died very slowly.19Secular music for some time had been considered by the churches a waste of time, a vanity, and an occasion of sin. Amateur musicians, enjoying secular music in their homes—public concerts were virtually unknown at the time—clearly resented this unsavory association attached to one of their chief modes of recreation. In view of this it is interesting that a very popular theme in Flemish art between about 1550 and 1650 was that of concerts of the muses with Apollo, all of whom play precisely those instruments commonly used by musical amateurs of the time. Both Apollo and the host of muses were chaste in reputation and thus offered the musical amateurs who commissioned these paintings comforting reassurance that their music-making was imitative of the activities of gods.20 Prodigal son paintings such as those by Pourbus and Francken, on the other hand, were clearly distasteful to them, since these pictures seemed to suggest that the instruments they themselves played were instruments of the devil.Teniers, understanding the musical tastes of his patrons and being a musician himself, very likely shared their attitudes about secular music. He also understood the social prestige of owning instruments—their very possession denoted both wealth and taste. Not leaving such things to chance, he painted at least two portraits of his family at music, including himself in one (figure 4).21 Placed in a rather elegant outdoor setting, Teniers holds a violoncello, telling his viewers that he actually plays as well as possesses the instrument (in his other family portrait the same instrument rests unused against a table). The other instruments in the scene are a tromba marina, leaning against the wall at the back, and what is probably an oboè d'amore resting on the table. His wife and child sing from open partbooks.Thus, by painting poor musiciens ambulants in his prodigal son picture, Teniers avoided offending his clientele by visually reminding them of the immoral significance of secular art music. Instead, the viewer sees only two rather downtrodden, comical characters whose music, as they themselves were, was generally dismissed without regard. Hence, if they are used to represent immorality no one is the worse for it. The Prodigal Son among the Courtesans by David Teniers the Younger is both genre and allegory, but it is also a compromise executed with a healthy respect for the interests of his patrons and, quite likely, with some degree of regard for his own rather well-developed musical sensibilities as well.Before leaving the subject of the prodigal son, a few words should be said about another, considerably later treatment of the subject in a painting recently acquired by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The work in question is the Return of the Prodigal Son (figure 5) by the Italian artist Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674-1755).22 Ghezzi shares a number of biographical details with Teniers. Like his Flemish predecessor, he had an important patron (the pope); he was a picture restorer and an art dealer; he moved with a socially important crowd, and—not surprisingly for someone in his position—he was a devoted musical amateur, even to the point of maintaining a weekly musical academy in his house. He had a penchant for humor and satire, most obvious in the caricatures for which he is particularly renowned. Finally, like Teniers, when saddled with biblical projects he was inclined to treat them as excuses to paint genre.His Return of the Prodigal Son is set in an Italianate landscape with appropriate references to classical architecture. In the foreground the father welcomes home his ragged son. To the right a servant tugs at a reluctant yearling soon to be sacrificed for the feast of celebration. A woman coming down the stairs on the left brings a set of fresh and elegant clothes for the returnee. In the foreground the faithful family dog crouches and seemingly snarls, not recognizing the prodigal. As Anthony Clark points out, the drama of the subject “is poised in a very Italian way: it does not occur in the profound psychological subject (which is shown in almost frivolous manner) but in its relieving natural aftermath, in the flowing celebration of the event.”23 This celebrative mood is reflected in the attitude of the two female musicians standing left of center at the rear, but their significance involves more than that of minor characters filling a spatial void in a rather dressy genre scene. On the contrary, evidence suggests Ghezzi may have employed them as vehicles for his wry sense of humor, perhaps dressing up a scene and subject that he might otherwise have found tiring (Clark points out that Ghezzi “was not a devoutly involved painter: he could out-think his painting hand consequently it somewhat bored him to paint”).24It seems to me that his choice of instruments was not arbitrary. The woman on the left holds a tambourine, an instrument frequently shown in the hands of bacchantes, as in numerous paintings by Rubens. The instrument is, in fact, an attribute to sensual pleasure, as opposed to virtue.25 The profane sense of Ghezzi's intentions, however, is best clarified and strengthened by an examination of the second woman, who holds in her hand a small recorder (figure 6). Compared with the flute, the sexual significance of this instrument is if anything even more explicit; unlike the transverse flute which is played by holding it perpendicular to the mouth in order to blow across the air hole, the recorder is placed directly into the mouth. The manner in which the woman holds the instrument betrays an obvious sexual allusion: she does not play it but rather holds it delicately between her thumb and first finger in a way that has nothing to do with the way the instrument is held for producing sound (neither her thumb nor finger covers any holes). It is safe to conclude that Ghezzi, being a musician, produced this anomaly on purpose. His intention is confirmed by the woman's face. While holding the instrument/phallus sensually between thumb and finger and with her back to us—as if her action required privacy—she turns her head, looks over her shoulder and, with an eager, wide-eyed stare, focuses on the prodigal. Ghezzi has given us a little vignette, a caricature of human nature, which recalls the dissipations of the prodigal and, it might be said, the artist's own interpretation of the longevity of the sinner's return to grace.Richard Leppert is Assistant Professor of Humanities at the University of Minnesota. He is author of Musical Instruments and Performing Ensembles in Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, 2 vols. (Munich: Katzbichler Verlag, 1976). A musicologist, he is engaged in musico-iconographical research.Endnotes
  1. See “Late Gothic Tapestry Acquired for Institute,” Minneapaolis Institute of Arts Bulletin, 27, no. 6 (1938), pp. 26-30.
  2. See Ikonographie der christlichen Kunst ed. Karl Künstle (Freiburg: Herder, 1928), vol. 1, pp. 400-401), Lexikon der christlichen Kunst, ed. Engelbert Kirschbaum (Freiburg: Herder, 1968), vol. 4, cols. 172-174; Louis Rèau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien (Paris: Pressus universitaires de France, 1957), vol. 2, part 2, pp. 333-338; A Pigler, Barockthemen (Budapest: Ungarische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1956), vol. 1, pp. 360-364.
  3. See further Philippe Verdier, “The Tapestry of the Prodigal Son,” Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, 18 (1955), pp. 20, 24-25. The major studies of the prodigal son theme in art are those by Kurt Kallensee, Die Liebe des Vaters: das Gleichnis vom verlornenen Sohn in der christlichen Dichtung und bildenden Kunst (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1960); Ewald Vetter, Der verlorene Sohn, Lukas-Bücherei zur christlichen Ikonographie, no. 7 (Düsseldorf: L. Schwann, 1955); and W. Witwitzky, “Das Gleichnis vom verlorenen Sohn in der bildenden Kunst bis Rembrandt,” Diss. Heidelberg, 1930.
  4. Occasionally artists have produced cycles of prodigal son paintings, each picture being devoted to a separate scene. Perhaps the most famous is that by Murillo in the Prado in which the parable is divided into six pictures.
  5. Gordon Washburn, et. al., “Genre and Secular Subjects,” Encyclopedia of World Art (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962), col. 89.
  6. Most of the objects on the table and about the room, while representative of northern artists' affection for everyday things, are not chosen completely arbitrarily. They symbolize various vanities. See Guy de Tervarent, Attributs et symboles dans l'art profane: 1450-1600, Travaux d'humanisme et renaissance, no. 29, 2 vols. plus supplement (Geneva: Librairie E. Droz, 1958-1964).
  7. Teniers himself produced at least two others. A picture now in the Louvre (reproduced in the study by Édouard Michel, La peinture du Musée du Louvre: École flamande [Paris, 1929], pp. 102-103) duplicates the Minneapolis work in its essentials, except that the setting has been moved to the street and the main characters increased from seven to ten. The rather tawdry nature of the scene is, if anything, more emphatically expressed than in the Minneapolis picture: it includes a clearly-visible prodigal kneeling before hogs at their trough. On the other hand, in a picture reproduced by Adolf Rosenberg, Teniers der Jüngere, Künstler Monographien, no. 8 (Bielefeld: Verlag von Velhaden & Klassing, 1901), pl. 2, Teniers uses a setting rather more in keeping with the main stream of elegant prodigal son representations.It has been suggested (“The Prodigal Son by Teniers the Younger,” Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin, 34, no. 9 [1945], p. 30) that the Minneapolis and Louvre pictures, together with one in the Dulwich Gallery, may have been intended as part of a series. I find this extremely unlikely, since the Minneapolis and Louvre pictures both represent the same theme—the prodigal among the courtesans. Furthermore, the Dulwich Gallery painting depicts the prodigal eating with the swine, a theme which, as I have just noted, is already present in the Louvre picture.
  8. In the Bulletin article referred to in n. 10, this vignette is incorrectly described as “an irate woman . . . clouting a boy thief while a man flings water on him from a window above.” John Smith, in his monumental Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters (London, 1829-1842), vol. 3, p. 307, does worse. He describes the exterior vignette as taking place in an “adjoining room” (!) where “are seen two persons quarrelling, and a third throwing water on them.” Neither of these accounts has anything to do with prodigal son iconography. (The water-throwing motive is also used by Pourbus and Francken in the upper left in each.)
  9. In the painting by Francken the ironic sense is on surer ground, since the dog—rather ill-fed and downtrodden—peers up at a courtesan who pays him not the slightest heed. Not surprisingly, the dog is male. Cf. Tervarent, op. cit., vol. 1, cols. 93-96, on the meaning of dogs as attributes.
  10. The source is Ovid. See Terverant, op. cit., vol. 1, cols. 143-144.
  11. Tervarent, op. cit., vol. 2, cols. 311-313, 352-355. The association of apples with Venus and love comes from the story of the judgment of Paris, who awarded the apple inscribed “For the fairest” to Venus, after she offered him the fairest woman in the world as his wife for choosing her over Juno and Minerva. Verdier, op. cit., pp. 19 and 29, points out that the apple in Renaissance iconography could be used in an overtly sexual sense. In a tapestry in the Walters Art Gallery, “Eve holds the apple after the Fall in such a way that it exactly takes the place of her left breast.” On a more abstract level, the apple alluded to the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge and connoted spiritual hunger.There can be little doubt that Teniers was cognizant of the symbolic potential of objects and animals, judging from his numerous depictions of the temptation of St. Anthony, an iconographically rich and often surrealistically treated subject, previously popular with Bosch. In a similar vein, Teniers even painted a few vanitas pictures, a genre much more popular in Calvinistic Holland than in Catholic Flanders, in which, typically, ordinary everyday objects are gathered together in carefully arranged compositions of considerable iconographical complexity. The themes revolve around the transience of life and the ultimate uselessness of worldly pursuits, pleasures, and possessions.
  12. See further on this point Emanuel Winternitz, “The Knowledge of Musical Instruments as an Aid to the Art Historian,” Musical Instruments and Their Symbolism in Western Art (London: Faber, 1967), p. 48.
  13. Brussels, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts, inv. no. 2838. Dated 1536.
  14. Oil on wood, 62 cm. x 86 cm. Paris, Musée du Louvre. Dated 1633. The painting represents the entire cycle of the parable in nine separate compartmentalized scenes.
  15. François Lesure, Music and Art in Society, trans. Denis and Sheila Stevens (University Park: Pennsylvania Univ. Press, 1969), pp. 30-31.
  16. On the life of Teniers, see the articles in Thieme-Becker, the Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon,and the Encyclopedia of World Art.
  17. “The Prodigal Son by Teniers the Younger,” Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin, 34, no. 9 (1945), p. 33.
  18. See further F. C. Legrand, Les peintres flamands de genre su XVIIIe siècle, Les peintres flamands du XVIIe siècle, no. 8 (Brusells: Éditions Meddens, 1963), pp. 15-16, 128, 240; W. R. Valentiner, “Teniers and Brouwer,” Art Quarterly, 12. no. 1 (1949), pp. 90-91, clarifies the difference between the two artists in a comparison between Teniers' The King Drinks in the Los Angeles County Museum and Brouwer's The Smoker in the Metropolitan Museum. Teniers borrows a number of details from Brouwer's work—some literally, some with changes. One of the more significant and telling of the alterations occurs in his use of a grotesque figure who, in Brouwer's painting, blows smoke out of one of his nostrils. Teniers makes him “into a more mannerly fellow, holding his pipe, in a 'refinement' characteristic of the artist who sought to tone down Brouwer's more extreme interpretation. . . . Teniers, in simplifying the composition and omitting some of the bold, forceful and boisterous qualities of the original, has left a painting of more appeal to those unaccustomed to life at a hectic pace in smoke-filled taverns, and who prefer a version of realism that is conceived at a lower pitch of intensity.”
  19. See further on this point A[lbert] P[omme] de Mirimonde, “Les sujets de musique dans la peinture Belge du XVIIe siècle,” Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Antwerp: n.p., 1967), pp. 199-274.
  20. See Mirimonde, “Les concerts des muses chez les maitres du nord,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Ser. 6, 63 (1964), pp. 130-132.
  21. Oil on wood, 38 cm. x 58 cm. Formerly Berlin, Staatliche Museen, cat. no. 857. The other portrait, depicting his wife and son (oil on wood, 32 cm. x 42 cm.), is in Turin, Galleria Sabauda.
  22. Oil on canvas, 38.75 x 52.87 in. The Putnam Dana McMillan Fund, 71.23. Anthony M. Clark, “Three Ghezzis,” Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin, 60 (1971-1973), p. 65, dates the work to the 1720s.
  23. Clark, op. cit., p. 65.
  24. “Pierleone Ghezzi's Portraits,” Paragone, 165 (1963), p. 13.
  25. See Tervarent, op. cit., vol. 2, col. 369.
Referenced Works of Art
  1. Frans Pourbus the Elder, attr.
    Flemish, 1545-1581
    Prodigal Son among the Courtesans
    Oil on canvas, 61.5 cm. x 98.2 cm.
    Antwerp, Museum Mayer van den Bergh, cat. no. 27
    (Photo: Copyright A.C.L., Brussels)
  2. Frans Francken the Younger
    Flemish, 1581-1642
    Prodigal Son among the Courtesans
    Oil on wood, 67.5 cm. x 110.5 cm.
    Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle, inv. no. 171
    (Photo: Copyright A.C.L. Brussels)
  3. David Teniers the Younger
    Flemish, 1610-1690
    Prodigal Son Among the Courtesans
    Oil type on copper, 22.5 in. x 30.5 in.
    The William Hood Dunwoody Fund 45.8
  4. David Teniers the Younger
    Flemish, 1610-1690
    Portrait of the Painter and His Family in a Park
    Oil on wood, 38 cm. x 58 cm.
    Formerly Berlin, Staatliche Museen, cat. no. 857
    (Photo: Copyright A.C.L., Brussels)
  5. Pier Leone Ghezzi
    Italian, 1674-1755
    Return of the Prodigal Son
    Oil on canvas, 38.75 in. x 52.87 in.
    The Putnam Dana McMillan Fund 71.23
  6. Detail: Female musician with recorder
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Source: Richard D. Leppert, "The Prodigal Son: Teniers and Ghezzi," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 61 (1974): 81-91.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009