POUSSIN, Nicolas
(b. 1594, Les Andelys, d. 1665, Roma)

Midas and Bacchus

1629-30
Oil on canvas, 98 x 130 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

In Greek legend Midas was a king of Phrygia who was granted a wish by Bacchus in return for a good deed he had done to Silenus, a follower of the god. Midas wished that everything he touched be turned to gold, but soon realized his mistake when all food became inedible. Bacchus ordered him to wash in the River Pactolus in Lydia. Hence the popular aetiology of the gold-bearing properties of the river, thought to have been the source of wealth of the kings of Lydia, of whom Croesus was the last.

Midas is depicted penitently before Bacchus, a drunken Silenus sleeping nearby. Another version of the subject by Poussin (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) depicts Midas washing in the river, while the river god reclines on his urn.