Dated by Joost Vander Auwera to circa 1601-02, just after the artist's return to Antwerp from Rome, this painting is inspired by the ancient myth of Midas, King of Phrygia. After having lost his power to transform all he touched into gold, Midas moved to the country, where he became a worshipper of Pan, god of the fields. Pan had the audacity to compare his music with that of Apollo, and challenged Apollo, the god of the lyre, to a trial of skill. Tmolus, the mountain god (shown seated between Apollo and Pan) was chosen to judge the contest. After Tmolus declared Apollo the winner, Midas (shown to his right) opposed his judgment, in punishment for which Apollo gave him the ears of a donkey.
The painting is similarly composed, over three planes, to Janssens' 1601 dated Diana and Callisto in Budapest, with a small number of sculptural and starkly lit figures in the foreground, a larger group of figures on the plane immediately behind, seated before a distant and highly detailed landscape. It seems likely that the two paintings were both executed within a very short space of time, although whether in Rome, where Janssens sojourned from 1598 to 1601 or immediately after his return to Antwerp remains open to debate.
There is a copy of the present work in Ljubljana, Narodna Gallery (oil on canvas, 168 by 115 cm.; see F. Zeri and K. Rozman, Maestri europei dalle collezioni Slovene. Evropski slikarji iz slovenskih sbirk. Catalogue d'exposition, Ljubljana 1993, pp. 163-64, reproduced fig. 46.
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