Johannes Hewel (1947-2009)

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Filius Prodigus - The Prodigal Son: A Trilogy in Glass-painting

Johannes Hewel
Rot am See/Stuttgart, 1991

An autonomous work of art, handiwork of the artist
Each leg 112.3 x 27.7cm

Delicate blue flashed glass (darker above, light below), divided into two parts joined by a lead came, painted on the front face with black vitreous paint, with matts and reserved drawing

First leg: wood, glass
Second leg: glass, glass
Third leg: bronze, glass


Johannes Hewel gave three narrow, tall pictures in glass the Latin title ‘Filius Prodigus’; in them he recounts the tale of the Prodigal Son, inspired by the biblical parable (Luke XV) and André Gide’s literary version (‘Le retour de l’enfant prodigue’) of 1907. On each of the two-part pieces is represented a leg onto which shorthand-like symbols and signs have been scratched – similar to a tattoo, an engraving, or the patterned leggings of Indian clothing.

The first part shows the birth: a house with a couple inside at a table, down to whom a son has just fallen from a cloud full of stars. A path snakes its way down the leg, past a plant, ending in a human head, which in turn, disgusted, vomits into a vessel placed beneath. This motif is repeated in the same position on all three legs of the work. The second leg shows the squandering of the Prodigal Son’s inheritance: in the upper part a couple stands opposite each other, with a bellied bottle hanging between them, and a hat and a lamp above. On the zigzag road that leads downwards human caricatures can be made out, as well as plants, lay-bys, and a car with its headlights on, driving in the direction of the shin, towards the vomiting head. The third part indicates the way to paradise with a few strokes and symbols: the Garden of Paradise is above, from which a straight path leads below to the vomiting head, the contours of which now appear to be disintegrating. Or does the path perhaps lead from the head to paradise?

While the tale of the Prodigal Son in the Bible ends with a huge celebratory feast and the father’s forgiveness, André Gide takes the story further. The son who has returned home does not just meet his older brother, but a younger brother, who was born in his absence. The latter son would like to leave the house to his older brother and travel out into the world. The mother implores the son who has just returned home to hold the younger brother back, something the Prodigal Son is neither capable of doing nor desires, since he hopes that the younger son will succeed in being free and living his dreams. The spewing head that is repeated doggedly in each part expresses disappointment in personal failure at not having been successful in becoming ‘the person that you wanted to be’.


This text was published in Jutta Dresch (ed.), Glasmalerei der Moderne: Faszination Farbe im Gegenlicht, catalogue to the special exhibition at the Badisches Landesmuseum in Karlsruhe 9 July – 9 October 2011, Karlsruhe, 2011, cat. nos. 78a–c, pp. 219f.

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Biografie Johannes Hewel