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Jacob Jordaens

The Wife of King Candaules

Jacob Jordaens

Oil on canvas, 26 x 21⅛ ins. (66 x 53.6 cm)



Possibly Coenraad Baron Droste
His sale, The Hague, 21 July 1734, lot 4
Apparently purchased by the previous owner at a sale in California, U.S.A.


The subject is taken from the Histories of Herodotus (I), in which he relates that Candaules, King of Lydia, boasted about his wife’s incomparable beauty to his favourite bodyguard Gyges, and insisted that he see her naked with his own eyes.  Gyges was reluctant to dishonour the Queen in this way, but the King ordered him to hide behind a door in the Royal bedchamber so that he could spy on her undressing. That night, the plan was executed, but the Queen caught sight of Gyges as he left the room and realised that she had been betrayed by her husband.  The Queen kept her counsel until morning, when she summoned Gyges to her chamber and confronted him with his misdeed.  She gave him a stark choice: either he could be killed, or he could murder Candaules and rule Lydia as her husband.  Naturally, Gyges chose the latter and Candaules was punished for his reprehensible act. 

This painting is a study, or modello, for the figure of King Candaules’s wife in Jordaens’s large painting of The Wife of King Candaules displaying herself to Gyges, in the Nationalmuseum, in Stockholm (ii).  In the large painting, the Queen is depicted lifesize, seen from behind, standing before a canopied bed.  She is virtually naked, but for a string of pearls and a lace-trimmed cap.  Just as she is about to step into her bed, she pauses and casts a backward glance, apparently addressing the viewer with a conspiratorial smile.  On the far right of the picture, Gyges can be glimpsed craning his head through a gap in the curtain, with the King close behind him.

In the seventeenth century, the story of King Candaules’s wife was seen as a moral lesson, warning against violations of the marital bedchamber.  The theme was treated by the poet Jacob Cats in his Toneel vande mannelicke Achtbaerheyt (iii), in which he devoted no less than eighty-six verses to the tale of Candaules and Gyges, and illustrates the scene in the royal bedchamber with a print by Pieter de Jode after Adriaen van de Venne (iv).  In the print the Queen is seen half naked from behind.  Candaules is already in bed, and the Queen looks at Gyges, who is largely concealed behind the wallhangings.  The moral of the story is clarified by a scene on a smaller scale in the background, showing Candaules being slain by Gyges.  The print no doubt served as an inspiration for several other later renditions of the theme in Northern Netherlandish painting, including works by Frans van Mieris the Elder (v), and Eglon van de Neer (vi). 

The measurements (23 duim x 19 duim) correspond with a painting by Jordaens described as of Queen Tomyris which was sold in the sale of Baron Droste in The Hague in 1734.  No other work depicting Queen Tomyris is known by Jordaens.


Jacob Jordaens was born in Antwerp in 1593, the eldest son of a well-to-do cloth merchant of the same name and Barbara van Wolschaten.  In 1607 he was apprenticed to Adam van Noort who was also a teacher of Rubens.  He became a member of the St. Luke’s Guild in 1615 and in May 1616 married his master’s daughter, Catharina van Noort (1589-1659), in the Onze Lieve Vrouw Kerk in Antwerp.  The couple had three children: Elizabeth, Jacob, who became a painter, and Anna Catharina.  By 1618 he was able to buy his own house in the Hoogstraat, the street where he was born, and in 1621 he was made Dean of the St. Luke’s Guild.  By the 1630s he was established with his own studio and began to play an increasingly important role in artistic circles in Antwerp.  In 1634, he collaborated with Rubens on the decorations to mark the arrival of the Cardinal Infante Ferdinand into Antwerp and again in 1637-8, he worked with Rubens on a cycle of paintings intended for the decoration of the Torre de la Parada in Madrid.  He inherited both property and money from his parents and in 1639 was able to buy the property next door in order to expand his studio which remained active into the 1670s.  After Rubens’s death in 1640 and that of Van Dyck the following year, Jordaens was regarded as the premier painter in the southern Netherlands.  One of the most important commissions Jordaens received was for the decoration of the Oranjezaal at the Huis ten Bosch, a summer home built in The Hague woods by Amalia van Solms, widow of Prince Frederick Henry of Orange.  In addition to portraits, he painted genre scenes, history subjects and altarpieces.  He designed tapestries throughout his career and was a fine draughtsman and printmaker.  Although brought up as a Catholic, late in life Jordaens became a member of the Dutch Reformed Church.  He died on 18th October, 1678. 


i  Herodotus, I, 8-12. 
ii Jacob Jordaens, King Candaules Lets Gyges Spy on his Wife, circa 1646, on canvas, 193 x 157 cm, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, inv. no. NM.1159.  See: N. de Poorter, in R.-A. d’Hulst, N. de Poorter and M. Vandenven, Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), exhibition catalogue, Antwerp 1993, pp. 236-9,
no. A76, reproduced. 
iii Jacob Cats, Toneel vande mannelicke Achtbaerheyt, Aengewesen inde Voor-sprake, Tegen-sprake, and Uyt-sprake, over de weygeringe van de Koninginne Vasthi, Aen de Gesanten des Konincks Assuerus, Tot verbeteringe van de Huys-gebreken deser eeuwe, Middleburg, 1623, pp. 16-18. 
iv J. Cats, ibid, ill. p. 16; F. W. H. Hollstein, Dutch & Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts
1450-1700 ,
XXXV, p. 78. 
v Frans van Mieris the Elder, on panel, 29.3 x 26 cm, c. 1670, Staatliches Museum, Schwerin.  O. Naumann, Frans van Mieris (1635-1681) The Elder, Doornspijk, 1981, vol. I, pp. 92-93; Vol. II, pp. 96-97, no. 84. ill.
vi Eglon van der Neer, King Candaules Lets Gyges Spy on his Wife, canvas, 85 x 99 cm, Kunstmuseum, Düsseldorf. 

Jacob Jordaens

1593 - Antwerp - 1678

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