The Prodigal Son
Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32 has always been a popular theme of sacred art. Rembrandt set such a high standard for truth and compassion in his Return of the Prodigal Son, painted around 1669, all subsequent interpreters have struggled to come up with something new to say about this tale of the wastrel son reunited with his forgiving father. German-American Graphic Artist Fritz Eichenberg takes an unconventional approach in his 1967 wood engraving, The Prodigal Son. Rather than showing the more traditional happy ending, he depicts the wastrel protagonist at the very lowest point of his spiritual journey, when he is forced to work as a swineherd. The shaggy mane and course skin of this haggard wanderer make him almost indistinguishable from the highly sociable herd of pigs, where he seems to have found the fellowship other humans denied him when his cash ran out. With LOVE tattooed on his left arm, the Navy anchor emblem on his right, and a Hells Angels Iron Cross dangling from his neck, the world weary central figure is a sad study in confused convictions. He might well be a displaced Vietnam War Vet turned Flower-Child-Gone-to-Seed, given the date of the print. The artist has included one hopeful image in this sardonic scene. The broken-off branch the Prodigal Son grasps in his left hand cuts across the picture space like a vertical life-line thrown down from heaven. This is a rod and staff to comfort him and a walking stick to lean on during the long journey home to a father, whose love for his wayward boy is so great, he will run out into the road to embrace him.