The Judgment of Midas
Hendrick Goltzius (Dutch, 1558–1617)
Bartsch 140; Hollstein 132 i/iii; Hirschmann 132; Strauss 285 i/iii
Platemark: 42.1 x 67 cm (16 9/16 x 26 3/8 in.) Sheet: 43 x 67.9 cm (16 15/16 x 26 3/4 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
Hendrick Goltzius, the leading Dutch artist of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, is still regarded as one of the greatest virtuoso engravers of all time.
“The Judgment” is a deliberately complex, multi-figured composition, a self-conscious masterpiece. Goltzius involves the viewer by making him search for the key players. Rather than standing front and center, Apollo and Midas are positioned to the rear or to the side. The narrative unfolds slowly, causing us to pause and savor the visual delights laid before us. Elongated figures rest comfortably or seem to glide across a stage set. The idealized figures are types with neither portrait-like individuation nor mortal anatomical flaws. Much more varied is the range of poses, textures, and especially light. Goltzius’s dazzling light and transparent shadow is a wonder to behold–all the more so when one bears in mind the demanding nature of the engraving medium.
The subject is the musical competition between Apollo and Pan. The mountain king Timolus, crowned with oak leaves, loses himself in the beauty of Apollo’s elegant song. King Midas prefers Pan’s piping, and Apollo punishes his lapse in taste by causing the king’s ears to become those of an ass. Goltzius has actually conflated two scenes described by Ovid, Minerva and the nine muses witnessed Apollo’s confrontation with Marsyas rather than that with Pan. Goltzius’s choice of an Ovidian subject presumes a sophisticated though not necessarily scholarly audience.
Verso lower right in graphite pencil: 149--
June, 2000, Christie's, London, lot 44, £56,400 to Kunsthandlung Helmut Rumbler (dealer), Frankfurt; June, 2006, purchased from Rumbler by the MFA.
Museum purchase with funds donated anonymously