The subject of the Judgment of Midas derives from Ovid's Metamorphoses (XI, 157-179). Having implored Bacchus to take back the gift of the golden touch that the god had bestowed on him, King Midas of Phrygia shunned all riches and wandered the fields and woods of Mount Timolus in Lydia. There he encountered Pan who boasted that his musical skill was greater than Apollo's. A contest ensued with Apollo playing the lyre and Pan his pipes. The mountain god, Tmolus, the figure whose head is wreathed with oak leaves in the present work, was chosen as the arbiter and declared Apollo the winner. Midas, however, disagreed with this verdict whereupon Apollo, as punishment for his stupidity, turned his ears into those of an ass.
This painting, at one time ascribed to Niccolò dell'Abate, was assigned to a close follower of Primaticcio by Charles Sterling when the painting was included in the 1955 exhibition at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (see Exhibited). Sterling proposed that the composition was likely based on designs created by Primaticcio. He compared the style of the figures with those in Primaticcio's murals for the window embrasures in the Salle de Bal at the Château de Fontainbleau which, though lost, are known from several preparatory drawings. He also speculated that a drawing by Primaticcio in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, depicting Two Seated Men, may have served as inspiration for the two figures of Tmolos and Midas in the present work.1 Dominique Cordellier, in his catalogue entry on the painting in the 2004 exhibition in Paris (see Exhibited), expanded further on Sterling's ideas. He compared individual figures, as well as the shallow, relief-like setting, to those found in other decorative projects by Primaticcio dating from the early 1540s. In particular, he related the graceful profile of Apollo in the present work with that of Juno in a Primatriccio drawing in the Musée du Louvre and the profiles of Pan and Tmolos, which are almost identical to that of the figure of the executioner in a drawing depicting the Flaying of Marsyas in the collection of The British Museum.2
1. See A.E. Popham and J. Wilde, The Italian Drawings of the XV and XVI Centuries in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle, London 1949, pp. 303-4 cat. no 759, reproduced fig. 105.
2. See Primatice, Mâitre de Fontainebleau, exhibition catalogue, Paris 2005, cat no. 56, Juno, Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts Graphiques, Inv. no. 8558; and cat. no. 67, The Flaying of Marsyas, London, The British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings, Inv. no. 1946,0713.42.
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