Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Spanish, 1617-1682
Title: The Return of the Prodigal Son
Date: c.1660
Medium: Oil on canvas
104.5 x 134.5 cm
Credit Line: Presented, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987 (Beit Collection)
Object Number: NGI.4545
DescriptionThe parable of the prodigal son is told in St Luke's Gospel (15:11-32). The younger son of a wealthy father demanded his share of his inheritance and then left the family home. Having wasted many years abroad in a shameful existence, the young man, close to starvation, repented of his life and returned to his father's house. Unbeknownst to his family, he worked at the house as one of the servants. One day he was recognised by his father, who compassionately embraced him and rejoiced at his return.

In his picture Murillo emphasizes the Christian values of forgiveness and repentance, and most of all of charity, which is expressed by the maid carrying a robe for the distressed man. This canvas tells the final episode of the story and, along with another five canvases, also in our collection, was painted by the artist for an unknown patron. Four preliminary sketches for the series are in the Museo del Prado, Madrid, and another painted version is in the National Gallery of Art, Washington. The composition derives from a drawing by Annibale Carracci, which was later developed by Jacques Callot and Pietro Testa. Murillo undoubtedly knew the etchings of this subject by the two artists, and used them as the models for his work.

(National Gallery of Ireland: Essential Guide, 2008)

ProvenanceMarqués de Narros, Zarauz (Guipúzcoa), early 19th Century; José de Madrazo, Madrid; acquired by Queen Isabel II in 1850, who presented it to Pope Pius IX in 1856; acquired from the Vatican in 1868 by the Earl of Dudley in exchange for a Fra Angelico, a Bonifazio and 2.000 gold napoleons; purchased by Alfred Beit, 1896; Alfred Beit Collection, Park Lane, London; by descent to his brother Sir Otto Beit in 1906; by descent to Sir Alfred Beit, London, 1930; collection Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, Russborough, Co. Wicklow, 1953-1987; presented, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987 (Beit Collection)
Exhibition HistoryLeeds, 1868

Exhibition of the Works of the Old Masters, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1871

Spanish Art, The New Gallery, London, 1895-1896

Guildhall Exhibition, London, 1901

Spanish Old Masters, The Grafton Galleries, London, 1913-1914

An Exhibition of Spanish Paintings, The Arts Council, The National Gallery, London, 1947

Old Master Paintings from the Beit Collection, National Gallery of South Africa, Cape Town, 1949-1950

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Prado, Madrid; Royal Academy, London, 1982-1983

Murillo: The Prodigal Son, The Bowes Museum, Durham, UK, 2020-2021

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