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The Parable of the Prodigal Son

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©V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London


The New Testament story of the son who demanded his inheritance even before his father's death, squandered it on riotous living, found his efforts to support himself as a swineherd hard to bear and finally, repentant, returned home to receive a warm welcome, was popular in Elizabethan England. It is found carved on wooden chests, engraved on silver dishes, in window glass and performed on the stage.

This tapestry shows only the first of the six episodes into which the tale was divided to make up a complete set of cushions, the probable use for this piece. The well-dressed son receives his money in his father's counting house, witnessed by the steward. In the distance, the small mounted figure shows the Prodigal's departure.

There is enormous detail within a very small space - the area within the arch measures only some 15 inches high x 14 wide (38 x 35 cms) - yet there are several objects on the table and the boy's sword, hat and boots are shown in some detail.

The borders of this tapestry typify the characteristics which were used in the 1920s to establish the style of the workshop at Barcheston - the elongated herm-like figure between two floral compositions and the different hunting scenes in the horizontal borders were known from a high proportion of the other examples known then.

Much was derivative. Flowers had long been used as a decorative element in tapestry borders, the grotesque figures were a popular motif with artists, in particular with Cornelis de Bos most of whose work was done in Antwerp in the 1540s. The hunts may have derived from an English book, George Turberville's Art of Venerie (1576).

The figures in the left and right borders no longer balance equally. The weaver has pulled his threads too tight and lost the levels of his pattern.


Museum number T.1-1933

19 x 19 inches, 48.0 x 48.0 cms
Wool and silk

Source : Luke 15 11-32


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