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The Judgement of Midas
Domenichino and assistants
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A group of figures sits in a classical landscape. In the middle stands a king who seems to have grown large ears. This is the Judgement of Midas, taken from the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses. On the right is the sun god Apollo, wearing a red cloak and a laurel crown and holding his lyre; on the left is the satyr Pan with his pipes. Pan challenged Apollo to a musical contest: the unfortunate Midas judged Pan the better player so Apollo punished him by turning his ears into those of a donkey.

This is one of ten frescoes by Domenichino and assistants which originally adorned a garden pavilion in the grounds of the Villa Aldobrandini at Frascati, near Rome. Eight were transferred to canvas and are now in our collection. All show stories of Apollo, who in this cycle was intended to represent the light of reason. Pan, with his hairy legs, was perhaps understood to represent man’s baser emotions and Midas was punished for preferring sensual pleasure over thought.

Key facts
Artist Domenichino and assistants
Artist dates 1581 - 1641
Full title The Judgement of Midas
Group Villa Aldobrandini Frescoes
Date made 1616-18
Medium and support Fresco, transferred to canvas and mounted on board
Dimensions 267 x 224 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1958
Inventory number NG6285
Location in Gallery Room 13
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Villa Aldobrandini Frescoes

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These large frescoes (now transferred to canvas) once decorated the walls of a spectacular pavilion in one of the great Italian Baroque gardens.

The Villa Aldobrandini in Frascati was rebuilt by Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, nephew of Pope Clement VIII, in the early years of the seventeenth century. Immediately behind the palace, he built a large classical pavilion and decorated it with fountains, statues and paintings. Domenichino’s frescoes – two of which remain in situ – were arranged around a room called the Stanza di Apollo, which also contained a musical fountain representing Mount Parnassus, the mythical home of the Greek sun god Apollo and the Muses. Based on themes drawn from the Greek myths, the iconographical programme glorified the triumph of the Catholic Church, and the role of the Aldobrandini family in it, emphasising the superiority of the intellect over the emotions.

Although Domenichino designed the pictures, much of the actual painting was done by assistants.

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