7. The Prodigal Son among the Harlots


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The Prodigal Son among the Harlots, the 3rd scene in a series of 6, 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 Center Art Gallery, 1998.11.1.3

The lost son among the prostitutes / The prodigal son lives luxuriously


Amid the splendor of a brothel,  the wayward protagonist—perhaps pictured multiple times throughout the image, perhaps to be understood as the figure approaching the table—explores the pleasures to be purchased with his new wealth. Two men enjoy a meal at the ample round table, flirting with the doting young women at hand, as the madam of the house presides over the exchanges. In the room to the left, a couple plays cards, while in the chamber to the right, a second pair lean closely into each other, sharing a pot of tea with the bed conspicuously visible to the side. In the mid-distance we glimpse the wine vault (on the left) and the kitchen (on the right), comfort to the drunkard and glutton that here no appetite need go unfulfilled. The sumptuous interior overlooks an expansive garden with manicured parterre, evoking erotic play and garden of love motifs while providing an ideal setting for the pleasures of music and dancing.

One change the Remondini firm introduces comes with a new Spanish inscription emphasizing the moral hazards of luxury. Associating luxury and lust was entirely common, but here the former is explored in terms of the period’s particular furnishings. Matching mirrors and pier tables, the latter showcasing the quintessential eighteenth-century luxury of porcelain (coffee service and a fruit stand), thus reinforce the theme of morally-suspect abundance, even as they likely remained objects of desire for the print’s intended viewers (the degree to which the interiors of the Father’s house also depend upon luxury underscores the ambivalence).

In the central room, four history paintings and six oval portraits adorn the walls. The rectangular frame above the door to the bedchamber depicts Judith with the Head of Holofernes, a witty reference to the apocryphal Hebrew heroine who decapitated the threatening Assyrian general: even in the role of seductress, she maintained her virtue, triumphing over her male counterpart. It is hardly an image that bodes well for the Prodigal.