Selling Sex

The Prodigal Son Revelling with Harlots. Hartford: D. W. Kellogg & Co., 1838.

PlaceholderThe famous depiction of the Prodigal Son returning to the welcoming arms of his father stressed the proverb’s takeaway message: the all-importance of forgiveness in Christian doctrine. However, some artists chose to depict the Prodigal Son and his prodigal cohorts as they “revel with harlots.” The painted women in this version of the often-reproduced scene offer liquor, fruit, and other delicacies of the brothel. The image captures the dangerously alluring temptations available to men in urban America. This variant, a near copy of an earlier edition, uses hand-coloring to conceal the women’s breasts, but the scene is still unmistakably bawdy.