Hanging Out with an Art Major: “Imagining the Prodigal Son”


One of the paintings in the exhibition “Picture the Prodigal Son” by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Photo by Maria Camila Rodriguez.

As residents of the DFW Metroplex, University of Dallas students are exposed to a multitude of different periods and perspectives of visual art. This form of beauty both enriches the learned mind and soothes the weary soul.

However, it can be slightly daunting to find genuinely wholesome exhibits to see that don’t use the interpretative label ‘modern art’ as a crutch – there’s no joy in finding a banana duct taped to a wall . “Meandering with an Art Major” will attempt to guide readers through the heights of artists, ancient and contemporary, on display across Dallas.

The first exhibit to explore is about an hour’s subway ride from UD at the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University. The museum has an impressive collection of Spanish royal and religious Baroque art – although a particular exhibition, on loan from the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, the National Gallery of Art, Washington and the Hispanic Society of America, New York, is currently the star of the show.

“Picture the Prodigal Son” is one of the most remarkable Baroque series known to the Catholic Church, as it captures the theological complexities of the parable of Jesus in a relatable, emotive and iconic way. Painted by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Spain’s most sought after 17th century painter, he adapted lofty ecclesiastical concepts of sinners and saints to the streets of present-day Seville to encourage private devotion.

Because parables were rarely displayed in artistic works of this period, especially in such a strict stylistic narrative cycle, Murillo would have had little iconographic inspiration to draw upon. Historians believe he relied on European prints that displayed the story and the then-popular moralistic religious drama “El Hijo Prodigo” as inspiration.

The series is divided into six canvases, each displaying vibrant Baroque fashion, dynamic use of chiaroscuro to influence mood, rich Sevillian architecture, and unique storytelling techniques and iconography that eloquently expose every point. key to the story. “The Prodigal Son Receiving His Portion” depicts brotherly tension, “The Prodigal Son Feasting” displays subtle depictions of material vices, “The Prodigal Son Cast Out” illustrates the warning against temptation, “The Prodigal Son Feeding Pigs” demonstrates conversion and penitent resolve and “The Return of the Prodigal Son” depicts the intimate reunion and forgiveness between father and son.

The clear headliner of the series, however, is the second version of “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, as it allows the viewer a different and exploratory interpretation of the previous scene. Vibrant colors envelop a scene of familiar and joyful forgiveness between father and son, with servants already preparing for the festivities celebrating the son’s return. Beyond the expected repentance depicted, Murillo subtly underlined one of the beatitudes as a servant wearing the young man’s new garb – in other words, “dressing the naked”.

The “Picture the Prodigal Son” exhibit will remain on loan at the Meadows Museum until June 12, 2022. Tickets for students and adults are $4 and $12, respectively, during regular programming; Thursday evenings from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. offer free admission for all audiences.

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