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The Father Divides His Assets, the 1st of 6 scenes, ca. 1784
Colored etching published by Giuseppe Remondini (1745–1811) in Bassano,
after a series of published by Georg Balthasar Probst, ca. 1770
Calvin College, 19188.8.131.52
FILIUS DEPERDITUS CUM PATRE BONA DIVIDENS / EL HIJO PRODIGO REPARTE LOS BIENES CON EL PADRE
The lost son distributing his father’s goods / The prodigal son distributes his father’s goods
This six-part series—which was, as explained in entry #4, copied from one published by Probst some fourteen years earlier—sets the Parable of the Prodigal Son (as recorded in Luke 15) upon a refined eighteenth-century urban stage. Eager to make his own way in the world, the younger of two sons approaches his father and demands his inheritance. Remarkably, the father agrees, and the son’s share is distributed.
Within the print, money is apportioned and trunks are packed as the protagonist prepares to leave home. On the left, the son reaches for his inheritance as papers are read and records are kept. Servants divide and distribute the household goods within this richly appointed setting—books fill the shelves, fine curtains hang in the windows, and the cornice and ceiling are finely painted. Or at least we are to imagine they are finely painted; the quality of the actual hand-colored etching, painted with a sponge, points instead to the rapid production of this relatively inexpensive print.
The room’s painted ceiling depicts the ancient Greek myth of Phaeton, the son of Helios, god of the sun. When Phaeton begs to drive his father’s celestial chariot, Helios reluctantly agrees. The inexperienced Phaeton soon loses control of the vehicle and sets the earth ablaze. Angered by Phaeton’s irresponsibility, Zeus strikes him from the sky with a lightning bolt, and he tumbles to his death. The myth finds clear parallel within the parable, foreshadowing the Prodigal Son’s own impending fall.
Literature: Anton W. A. Boschloo, The Prints of the Remondinis: An Attempt to Reconstruct an Eighteenth-Century World of Pictures, translated by C. M. H. Harrison (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1998), pp. 174–77.