Mobile menu
Pietro Testa (1607/11-50)

Midas c.1640-50

RCIN 905932

Your share link is...

  Close

A drawing depicting King Midas along with two male figures. Attached to the drawing is a two page letter in Testa's hand addressed to Simonelli, a patron of Testa.

Pietro Testa was more a natural draughtsman (and etcher) than a painter, and a succession of frustrated projects led to his presumed suicide by drowning in the Tiber. This sheet is a fine illustration of his difficult character. It formed part of a letter to a patron, accusing him of trying to buy Testa off. In the letter Testa explained that the myth of King Midas symbolised the tyranny of those for whom nourishment (or friendship) is turned to gold (or seen in terms of money).

This sheet is a fine illustration both of Testa’s pungent pen style and of his difficult dealings with his patrons. It formed part of a draft letter to Niccolò Simonelli, a collector whom he had known since at least 1636; the remainder of the letter is on a separate sheet also in the Royal Collection. The tone of the letter is rather mercurial and a little bewildering. Testa seems to accuse Simonelli of trying to buy off their relationship, whereas Testa had thought that through the few ‘bagatelles’ already executed for Simonelli he could build a wall of benevolence and ‘enjoy the sweetness of a most precious and, by me, always-desired friendship’. He goes on to explain that in the drawing he had converted an ancient fable to modern usage: Midas was the King of Phrygia who was granted a wish that all he touched would turn to gold, but he soon began to starve when his food was likewise transformed. Testa takes this to symbolise the tyranny of those for whom that which should nourish (friendship) is turned not to virtue but to gold (or seen in terms of money). But the draft ends in jovial mood: ‘Who knows if I, too, will not one day with my pencil go to Parnassus? You see what balls [coglionerie] I write to you.’

In Stuttgart is a crude tracing of the drawing by Testa himself, inscribed with a version of part of the last paragraph of the Royal Collection letter.

Inscribed by the artist, lower right: quel’Mida che / tanto ne tiranegga; at upper left: che coglionerie vi scrivo

Catalogue entry adapted from The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection: Renaissance and Baroque, London, 2007