Arts of Europe


Parable of the Prodigal Son, ca. 1215–25
Pot metal, glass, vitreous paint
69 1/2 x 27 1/2 inches
Gift of Ellnora D. and Herman C. Krannert

This stained glass window was reinstalled in the Trees Gallery on April 28, 2014. Its conservation was generously supported by the Krannert Art Museum Council and Petals & Paintings 2013.

This Gothic window presents a rich visual account of the biblical parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32). The tale begins in the lunette at the top with the young man and a companion riding to the city to seek their fortunes. It continues in the rondel below with a scene showing the son and his cohorts squandering money on a prostitute. Though the Gospel mentions only that the young man lost his wealth through riotous living, medieval artists often portrayed him spending it on brothels, gambling, and drinking. The small architectural features above the figures in this scene indicate that they are in a city tavern. The story concludes in the bottom rondel with the son, poor and dejected, returning home, where he is warmly welcomed by his father as his elder brother looks on.

As is typical in Gothic stained glass, the narrative is relayed through simple forms and bright colors, and is surrounded by stylized foliate forms in the borders and spandrels. The artist not only captured the plot but also, through a skillful manipulation of form, the parable's themes of redemption and forgiveness. The images of the son meeting with the prostitute and with his father both show witnesses to his warm embraces. The visual parallel encourages a reading of the father's gesture as an expression of love and pardon. The small size of the rondels, the presence of religious imagery, and the style of figuration suggest that the window probably once decorated the lower portion of a French Gothic church.

Text by Paula M. Carns, Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008

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