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Solon before Croesus
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Nikolaus Knüpfer
Dutch, about 1650 - 1652
Oil on panel
24 x 35 3/8 in.
84.PB.640

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The sage Solon stands to the right against an unadorned section of the room. His humble dress, long beard, and admonishing gesture contrasts with the extravagantly dressed figure of the king who points dramatically at the riches before him. In this moralizing scene from Greek legend, the wealthy King Croesus calls an audience with Solon, an Athenian lawmaker and philosopher. After proudly displaying his immense wealth, the king asks Solon to name the happiest man he has ever met. Solon does not name Croesus, instead responding that he could call no man happy until his life was so judged at its end and that humble people were often more content than the wealthiest kings. This moralistic tale, extremely popular in 1600s Holland, reflected the culture's ambivalent attitudes toward wealth and consumption.

Nikolaus Knüpfer used light to draw attention to the confrontation between the two figures. King Croesus and his queen are bathed in a bright light that illuminates their exquisite finery, the white satin and gold tablecloth, and the succulent delicacies and gold wares on the table. Light also falls upon the solitary figure of Solon, accentuating his isolated position below in the stage-like setting. This composition's carefully planned design and lighting reveal Knüpfer's interest in contemporary Dutch theater.