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Master of the Prodigal Son, Pietà

Key facts
Full title Pietà
Artist Master of the Prodigal Son
Artist dates active about 1530 - 1560
Date made about 1550
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 108.5 × 69 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1854
Inventory number NG266
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Master of the Prodigal Son

The Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist support the body of the dead Christ, which rests on a stone slab. This composition is based on a plaquette by Moderno, the pseudonym of a goldsmith and medallist active in north Italy at the turn of the sixteenth century, datable to around 1508–13. It seems that one of his plaquettes reached the Low Countries and attracted the attention of Jan Sanders van Hemessen, who painted an enlarged version of it, perhaps in around 1530 or 1540 (Museum Henri Boez, Maubeuge).

This variation on van Hemessen’s picture by the Master of the Prodigal Son became extremely popular and was reproduced in many painted versions, perhaps over a long period, and in an engraving. The reason for its popularity is unclear, but it’s possible that the plaquette, or one of the versions, was believed to have worked a miracle.

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