Charles-Victoire-Frederic Moench: The Wife of King Candaules
The scene depicts King Candaules showing his sleeping wife to the servant Gyges. Candaules was a king of the ancient Kingdom of Lydia from 735 BC to 718 BC. The earliest known version of the story was related by Herodotus in the fifth century BC.
According to The Histories of Herodotus, Candaules bragged of his wife's incredible beauty to his favourite bodyguard Gyges. "It appears you don't believe me when I tell you how lovely my wife is," said Candaules. "A man always believes his eyes better than his ears; so do as I tell you - contrive to see her naked."
Gyges refused; he did not wish to dishonor the Queen like a more common woman by seeing her nude body. He also feared what the King might do to him if he did accept.
Candaules was insistent, and Gyges had no choice but to obey. Candaules detailed a plan by which Gyges would hide behind a door in the royal bedroom to observe the Queen disrobing before bed. Gyges would then leave the room while the Queen's back was turned.
That night, the plan was executed. However, the Queen saw Gyges as he left the room, and recognized immediately that she had been betrayed and shamed by her own husband. She silently swore to have her revenge, and began to arrange her own plan.
The next day, the Queen summoned Gyges to her chamber. Although Gyges thought nothing of the routine request, she confronted him immediately with her knowledge of his misdeed and her husband's. "One of you must die," she declared. "Either my husband, the author of this wicked plot; or you, who have outraged propriety by seeing me naked."
The Queen prepared for Gyges to kill Candaules. Gyges hid behind the door of the bedroom chamber with a knife provided by the Queen, and killed him in his sleep. Gyges married the Queen and became King.
Moench was a son of Simon Frederic Moench. Like his father, he was a well-known stage designer, but also a portraitist, historical and landscape artist and court interior painter. His decorative paintings can be seen in the Galerie de Diane and in the Garde de Salle (both in Fontainebleau) and in the Salle de Clarac in the Louvre. [Christies]
This particular legend was a favorite subject of painters for centuries (I wonder why?).