Friday, November 28, 2014

SBL 2014 (p. 2): Guercino's Return of the Prodigal Son and a new Reception History series

Guercino, Return of the Prodigal Son, 1654/5 (Timken Museum, San Diego)

This year's SBL was great; it's always wonderful in San Diego. The sessions were good, the book hall is always excellent, and the other meetings (both personal and editorial) were great as well. One exciting piece of news: Another outstanding publisher will soon begin a Reception History of the Bible book series. More on that in future posts.

Next year the AAR/SBL is in Atlanta, so the trip to the conference will only involve a MARTA ride downtown.

We stayed an extra day in San Diego this year so that we could visit the art museums in Balboa Park. The above photo is of Guercino's 1654/5 The Return of the Prodigal Son that I went to see in the Timken Museum of Art.

I won't write much about this painting in this post. Instead I will refer you to the excellent discussion in the book Illuminating Luke (volume 2) by Heidi Hornik (+Heidi Hornik-Parsons) and +Mikeal Parsons. Both are outstanding scholars--Heidi an art historian and Mikeal a NT Scholar--and both the Lukan text and the painting are covered extremely well in the book. I use this book in my Portraits of Jesus (Art and the Gospels) course and recommend it highly (I recommend all three volumes).

Guercino (1591-1666) painted this scene five different times over his long career. The first was in 1617, and the last was in 1655. Let me add a few notes from the Hornik/Parsons volume about this work (please see their book for more details):

The hands of the father and son are in the classic pose of reconciliation.

The gesture of reconciliation is not only found in the center of the painting, it also is the only time it occurs in any of the five paintings. The lost son has been found and welcomed home.

Also, in this painting and not in earlier versions, the son's head is turned away in a classic gesture of shame.

The son's tears are found in the 1651 version, but the difference is that we now can see both faces fully, instead of the son's in profile. 

Even with high-quality photos online, seeing the painting in person makes a real difference. The son's glistening tears, for example--both on his face and on his chest--are brilliantly done.

As Hornik/Parsons note, however, this painting achieves its effect primarily through rhetorical devices. The earlier versions utilized more overt depictions of pathos. The father, for example, does not display as much pathos in this version. In previous versions his hand has been lovingly placed around his son's back or grasping his side. Here, except for the gesture of reconciliation, he does not display as much concern for his son.

The servant is also a bit different. In the earliest versions, he participated in the scene by bringing the clothes for the returning son. In the 1651 version, the servant stands back and observes the reconciliation and seems to be moved to tears himself. In the 1654/5 version, however, the servant faces the audience, silently asking the viewers how they will respond to the prodigal, an invitation to celebrate that the father will soon extend to the elder son.

I also was delighted to see some other works about the parables that I hope to discuss in future posts. In addition, it was great seeing a lithograph by Thomas Hart Benton, The Departure of the Joads, that I utilized in my SBL paper about Benton's Prodigal Son. I will return to that subject in future posts as well.

In the meantime, I have some student papers to grade, as I return back to my Emory University work after the SBL conference. Thanksgiving with our family was also a wonderful respite.

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