by Frauke Maria Petry
The story of Candaules, whose climax Eglon Hendrik van der Neer captures on canvas, is of non-religious origin. It is found in Herodotus in his Histories and in Nicolaos of Damascus: Candaules, king over Lydia, brags to his bodyguard Gyges about the beauty of his wife Nyssia. As proof, he invites the friend to view the unclothed woman in secret. In van der Neer's oil painting, Gyges is at the left edge of the picture behind the bed curtain. The dark colors visualize his hiding place, and the viewer has to look very closely. But Nyssia, who presents herself in the supine nude, turns not only in the direction of the husband, but also to the Peeping Tom.
It is implied that the woman sees through the game. Later, she gives Gyges the choice of either stabbing Kandaules or dying himself. The subject decides for his life, takes Nyssia as his wife and becomes king. As the brightest area in the picture, the viewer is also tempted to look at the naked woman, and also becomes a voyeur - but no punishment follows. It is about the forbidden look at female nudity. Here, looking is directly connected to death. The moral winner is the woman. She takes revenge for the fact that her husband makes her an object. At the same time, Gyges is instrumentalized by her.
In the 17th century, the motif was taken up in Dutch painting as a counter-example for an honorable marriage relationship. The question of ownership and availability over the wife was thus discussed anew.
Eglon Hendrik v.d. Neer - The Wife of Kandaules discovers Gyges
Oil on canvas, 1660-1662, 82.3 x 100.3 cm, Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf