The Prodigal Son – 1887 Bronze
Auguste Rodin - V&A Museum
This sculpture represents Rodin’s rendition of the parable of the prodigal son told in the Gospel of Luke 15:11-32. In anticipation of his passing, a father distributes his wealth between his two sons. One continues to work diligently by his side while the other abandons the family and adopts a hedonistic lifestyle. The wayward son is eventually reduced to penury and reconsiders the error of his ways. Too ashamed to ask his father for forgiveness, he decides instead to return home, apologize and ask to be employed as a servant. The father is delighted at his son’s return and welcomes him with a great feast.
This is essentially a story about redemption, portrayed here by a supplicant kneeling figure with arms dramatically outstretched towards the sky in an act of complete prostration, surrender and contrition, not only before his earthly father, but also before God himself. It also reminds me of the final scene in the Oliver Stone movie “Platoon” where the character played by Willem Dafoe is killed. I wonder if the composition of that scene was in any way influenced by Rodin’s “Prodigal Son” or if it was just coincidence.
In any case, towards the end of his life, Rodin spent many years working on a project called “Gates of Hell”, but never finished it. This is one of the pieces that would have comprised the final project, but was donated to the museum as an individual work.