Dappled light danced upon Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. At first glance, the framed print glittered like red and amber jewels on the wall above Mom’s antique secretary.
It seems November’s waning sun seeks out my most beloved belongings, catching my eye to behold my gifts in awe. I adore the golden rays upon the desk’s slanted wood, brass key locks and handles, ornaments in my household for eight years now.
Another eight years before, the poster of The Prodigal Son came home with my husband and me from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. My late art master, August Gloss, matted and framed my souvenir reflecting the mood of the Baroque period.
The Prodigal waited alone on the north wall in our living room until Mom’s desk entered our door. The two treasures became fast companions and a beautiful composition.
At second glance, sunlight flickered on the father’s face and beard, illuminating his brooding eyes. I drew closer. One eye looks to the side in reflection; the other upon his repentant son in forgiveness. Shadows of conifer branches and patches of light played upon Luke’s parable, the father’s hands resting on his son’s back and threadbare garment.
Yes, dear reader, I laid eyes upon this masterpiece in 1999. My husband and I covered our shoes with paper slippers and climbed the dusty, grand staircase of the Hermitage. We marveled at Russia’s extreme wealth and want.
Our tour guide, tall and impeccably dressed, guided our group through a high doorway onto the holy ground of the Rembrandt Room. We stood before The Prodigal, found in the artist’s studio upon his death. In rich symbolism, the father’s red mantle enveloped his wastrel son kneeling before him. The contrast of his son’s rags, shorn head and bleeding feet was heartbreaking.
Too soon, the tour guide whisked us away to Rembrandt’s interpretation of Abraham Sacrificing Isaac. Too close to the loss of our prodigal, the Bible stories I’ve known all my life overwhelmed me. I could not leave the Hermitage without purchasing a print of the image that spoke forgiveness to me like none other, save the Cross.
At third glance, the Prodigal’s bare, right heel was alight. I asked the transient sun why some prodigals return and others do not. Did Rembrandt ponder the same thought about himself when he lost his wife, then her fortune to extravagant living? In his poverty and ruin, did the death of his son by his mistress lead the artist to Luke Chapter 15?
We know this: Rembrandt van Rijn stood before his easel and imagined the most remarkable story of repentance, forgiveness and restoration known in literature. He painted no shining ring or fine raiment. No fatted calf or ranting brother.
I stand in my Rembrandt Room and see the hands of the Father upon my prodigal’s back. His head is bowed, one eye upon me, the other upon her. I thank God for His saving grace, and Rembrandt.