As per usual to the style of Spanish Baroque art, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, an artist who worked in Seville, painted this biblical scene. Murillo's Return of the Prodigal Son perfectly reflects the spirit of the time. The religious war between Catholics and Protestants was at an all-time high, and both the Protestant North and the Catholic South would represent their ideological views in the paintings their artists produced. Spain, as I said, frequently glorified saints, martyrdoms, and religious scenes in order to persuade Catholic defectors, as well as Protestant heretics, to stop rebelling and join the supposedly one, true church.
In this painting we see before us the moment of Jesus's well-known parable when the prodigal, or wasteful, son returns home after squandering his inheritance and spoiling his reputation with sinful and unwise decisions made out of youthful ignorance. The most memorable aspect of the parable is not that the son returns home; that is to be expected, considering he has no place else to go. The part of the parable that stays with us is the forgiveness of the father, the loving father who graciously welcomes back his son to his home and even celebrates the homecoming. Well, likewise this painting demonstrated the subliminal message of the Catholic Church's willingness to forgive and forget the reckless past of any Catholics-turned-Lutherans who would come back and leave their foolish, Protestant ways. In the painting we see the servants to the left ready to slaughter the fatted calf in celebration of the son's return, and we see a dog, white and pure, the symbol of loyalty, appropriately fitted into the story since the father remained loyal to the son. A quick word about dogs as a symbol of loyalty. Dogs are, of course, traditionally man's best friend. The name Fito comes from the Latin fidelis, which means "faithful." In art history, a dog almost always represents faithfulness and loyalty. Here the Catholic Church is pictured to be loyal and forgiving to the Lutherans who had left.