HONTHORST, Gerrit van
(b. 1590, Utrecht, d. 1656, Utrecht)

Solon and Croesus

Oil on canvas, 169 x 210 cm
Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Honthorst painted this painting two years after returning from Italy. The influence of Caravaggio can be seen in the strong chiaroscuro, and that of the more classicist-oriented Bolognese masters in the sharp contours and overall colourfulness of the work.

The subject is taken from the Greek author Herodotus. Croesus, king of Lydia, whose riches were proverbial, was said to have been visited by Solon the Athenian sage. The words of Solon - that the humble, when blessed with good fortune, were happier than Croesus with all his wealth - earned the king's displeasure. Later the Persian king Cyrus conquered Lydia and built a pyre for his vanquished foe. About to be burned alive, Croesus remembered the wisdom of Solon and thrice called out his name, which so roused the curiosity of Cyrus that he spared his victim's life.

The painting shows Croesus wearing a magnificent robe, seated on his throne. Standing opposite him is the sage SOlon in more modest attire, pointing at the viewer with his right hand. Precious vessels made of silver and bowls brimming with silver and gold are heaped in the foreground.