WEENIX Jan der Jüngere
Jan Weenix, a native of Amsterdam is mainly admired for his opulent still lifes of hunting trophies. The velvety pelt of a hare or the fluffy plumage of a bird against panoramic views exhibit his masterly skill in rendering textures and landscapes. He was, after all, the son and pupil of Jan Baptist Weenix (1621-1660/61), a Dutch painter of Italianate landscapes, and a cousin of Melchior de Hondecoeter(1636-1695), the well-known.
In his youth, Jan Weenix the Younger eagerly emulated his father with narrative paintings of street and harbour scenes, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between them. The painting at the Residenzgalerie Salzburg, which is described below, dates from this period. In 1664, he was admitted to the Utrecht Guild of St. Luke. Between 1702 and 1714, the painter executed a major commission for Johann Wilhelm the Elector Palatine, who resided in Düsseldorf.
The Prodigal Son
Given the absence of the Catholic Church as a sponsor of works of art in Holland, and given the Calvinist ban on pictures as altarpieces or objects of reverence, paintings served decorative or didactic purposes. Scenes from the Old and the New Testament were used to instruct and to exhort people to moderation.
One of the popular subjects for painting was the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15, 11-32), who squanders all his earthly goods in a distant country, returns home humbly and is warmly received by his father.
Jan Weenix the Younger depicts the son as a bon vivant, elegantly dressed, his arms extended in a sweeping gesture, in a party of high-spirited, frivolous people. Ladies of easy virtue, with low-cut dresses in the latest fashion, sensuously display their charms to the opposite sex. And yet, the young couple in the foreground is sitting right next to an abyss and one false movement will send them falling to their doom.
The parable of the Prodigal Son was frequently used as an opportunity to depict the life of prostitutes in brothels or scenes of dissolution in taverns with people singing, quarrelling or brawling.
Gabriele Groschner, Thomas Habersatter, Erika Mayr-Oehring (Ed.): Masterworks. Residenzgalerie Salzburg. Salzburg 2002, p. 32