The Return of the Prodigal Son

Italian (Neapolitan)c.1630s

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery
London, United Kingdom

This intimate scene depicts the dramatic climax of
the biblical story of the Prodigal Son. Having
squandered his inheritance on wild living, the
Prodigal Son returns to his father's house in
repentance. His father's forgiveness is shown by his
tender embrace and tears; in the background a
servant approaches with new clothes.
The colour scheme of the work is typically
Neapolitan, consisting of browns, earthy reds and
ochres. Once thought to be by Ribera, the work is
now attributed to one of his Neapolitan followers,
perhaps either the Master of the Annunciation to
the Shepherds or Francesco Fracanzano."


  • Title: The Return of the Prodigal Son
  • Date: c.1630s
  • Physical Dimensions: w1238 x h975 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • Work Notes: DPG558 is one of a group of pictures of similar composition which have been variously attributed to Francesco Fracanzano and the Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds (other examples in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, and Bristol City Art Gallery). DPG558 is particularly close to a further example, formerly on the London art market, which is given by F. Bologna to the Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds ('Battistello Carracciolo' cat. exh. Castel Sant'Elmo, Naples, 1991-2, p.161, fig.176 and p.168).
  • Work Nationality: Italian
  • Support: Canvas
  • School: Italian (Neapolitan)
  • Provenance: ?Sir G. Page, 1774 (a 'Prodigal Son' attributed to 'Calabrese' ie. M. Preti); his sale, 1783; John Willett; his sale, London, Coxe, 2 Jun. 1813, lot 94; Charles Fairfax Murray; Fairfax Murray Gift (as Ribera), 1911.
  • Further Information: "When, in 1911, this painting was bequeathed to Dulwich Picture Gallery by Charles Fairfax Murray, it was attributed to Ribera. The legacy of the painter is undeniable in this work, but it is not by his hand. More recently it was given to the Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds, a mysterious artist - possibly Italian or Spanish - active in Naples in the 1630s. He has been variously recognized as Bartolomeo Passante or Juan Do, but his precise identity still remains uncertain. The Master's name derives from the 'Annunciation to the Shepherds' now in the Birmingham Art Gallery, where the figures of the shepherds in rags are comparable to the characters in Dulwich's Prodigal Son. The Master seems to have specialised in scenes representing the return of the Prodigal Son. Two versions survive in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, and a third in Bristol City Art Gallery. While the four paintings are similar in composition, format and size, here the painting technique is different, with feathery, liquid and long brush strokes, rather than a more dense and pasty surface. The author of the picture is probably someone from the close circle or the workshop of the Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds. The close-up format of the painting, with a few figures, is indebted to the examples by Guercino. The protagonists of the story are presented in simple clothes, following a typically Neapolitan colour scheme, made of browns, earthy reds and ochres. The scene represented in the painting is the dramatic climax of the biblical story of the Prodigal Son. After leaving home and misspending his inheritance, the son returns to his father's house. According to Saint Luke's Gospel: 'the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son'. The father's welcome and forgiveness is epitomized by the tender embrace and the tears in the old man's eyes. A servant in the back carries new clothes for the son."
  • Acquisition Method: Fairfax Murray, Charles (Gift, 1911)

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