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Image of The Prodigal Son

Albrecht Dürer
German, 1471–1528

The Prodigal Son

1496

Object Type: Print
Creation Place: Northern Europe, German
Dimensions:
9 3/4 in. x 7 1/2 in. (24.77 cm x 19.05 cm)
Medium and Support: Engraving on laid paper
Accession Number: 1999.0007.0010

Credit Line: Gift of Jean K. Weil in memory of Adolph "Bucks" Weil, Jr.


The originality of Durer’s engraving is found in his choice of the moment from the parable (Luke 15:11-32) to depict. Instead of showing the prodigal son in a brothel or tavern, or discontentedly tending the swine—both popular subjects in the early fifteenth century—Dürer portrayed him in penance, kneeling with hands clasped and gazing upward, in the middle of a barnyard setting. In addition to this novel focus, Dürer also began to master the techniques of engraving, taking them to levels not previously seen. Through varying the shape, length, and depth of the engraved lines, together with adding quick flecks of the burin, Dürer successfully captured different textures such as the pigs’ bristles, and the wood, brick, and thatching of the buildings. His achievement in producing a rich vocabulary with engraving tools no doubt began with Dürer’s early training as a goldsmith under his father. Though the print demonstrates some problems with anatomy and composition, particularly the sharp transition between the central figure and the background, it is nevertheless ambitious in technique and unique in iconography.

See "Faith and Humanism: Engravings and Woodcuts by Albrecht Durer," exh. cat. (Montgomery: Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, 2002), 31.

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