Study for an engraving of the Prodigal Son (1520) by Albrecht Durer

Study for an engraving of the Prodigal Son - Albrecht Durer - 1520

Artwork Information

TitleStudy for an engraving of the Prodigal Son
ArtistAlbrecht Durer
Art MovementNorthern Renaissance
Current LocationBritish Museum, London, UK

About Study for an engraving of the Prodigal Son

The “Study for an engraving of the Prodigal Son” is an artwork by Albrecht Dürer, created in 1520 and intended as a design for an engraving. It exemplifies the attention to detail and craftsmanship associated with the Northern Renaissance. This sketch and study is part of the British Museum’s collection in London, UK.

The artwork depicts the biblical story of the Prodigal Son from the New Testament. The scene is set in a rustic environment, as evidenced by the architectural details of the buildings and the simplicity of a farming setting in the background. In the foreground, the central figure is the Prodigal Son himself. Dürer has portrayed him in a moment of destitution, as he is surrounded by pigs—a symbol of his downfall and the lowly state he has reached after squandering his inheritance.

Dürer’s skillful use of line creates a dynamic composition; the viewer’s eye is drawn to the figure in the center, whose body language suggests despair or exhaustion. The Prodigal Son’s gaze is directed downward, indicating shame or introspection. The pigs, some of which are engaged with a trough, reinforce the narrative of the son having to care for the lowest of animals to survive.

The drawing’s intricate detailing, including the delicate cross-hatching and the textural contrasts, showcases Dürer’s mastery as a draftsman. Elements such as the buildings, wheels, and other objects littered on the ground convey a sense of the environment’s materiality. The contrast between the human figure and the animals emphasizes the moral message of the biblical parable, capturing the gravity of the son’s penitent return to humility.

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