The Prodigal Son (Italian: Il figliol prodigo) is a painting by the Greek-born Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico. It is painted in tempera on canvas and was completed in 1922 as de Chirico was in transition from the Metaphysical style of his earlier works to the neoclassicism he essayed in the 1920s.
The Prodigal Son was a favourite theme of de Chirico’s, both for the many nuances of significance the subject offers, as well as for the autobiographical references the artist attributed to the theme. In 1917, in the middle of Metaphysical Painting’s high season of development, a drawing of the embrace between two mannequins evokes de Chirico’s first reflection on the theme. The theme was further elaborated at the beginning of the 1920s, at time when the artist began referring to himself as “Pictor classicus” and was conducting research in traditional painting techniques by making copies of Great Master paintings in museums. He discovered oil tempera emulsion, which he believed was the procedure with which the great renaissance masters achieved their masterpieces, and worked exclusively in the technique from 1920 to 1924. Two paintings on the Prodigal Son theme were executed in oil tempera emulsion in 1922 and 1924, each of which presents different and interesting characteristics. The reappearance of the mannequin, which had made its debut in Paris and was further developed in Ferrara, is common to both works. The embrace between the mannequin son and statue father alludes both to the artist’s “rapprochement” to the Museum, as well as a return to his metaphysical inspiration.
In 1975, during the period known as Neometaphysics, de Chirico revisited the theme in this painting, basing its composition on the prototype of the 1917 drawing. In addition to the Renaissance architecture and the same high horizon, we find also find the equestrian monument at the rear and the column on a base in the forefront, two elements which do not appear in the paintings of 1922 and 1924. (S.V.)