Self-Portrait as Midas
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Jean-Joseph Carriès
French, probably 1885
Patinated plaster
1 ft. 1 9/16 in. x 1 ft. 1 3/8 in. x 9 1/4 in.

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The unusual feature of donkey's ears provides the clue to the identity of this disembodied head of an older man, with closed eyes and tilted to the side. He represents the mythological King Midas, a figure of legendary foolishness best known for a magical touch that turned all objects to gold. According to Ovid's Metamorphoses, Apollo punished Midas by giving him the ears of a donkey after he chose Pan rather than Apollo in a musical contest.

Jean-Joseph Carriès left the head oddly truncated, resting not on a torso nor even on a neck but rather on a mass of roughly handled plaster. This amorphous truncation expresses the inner spirit divorced from bodily form. As a self-portrait, the image forms an allegory of Carriès's life. Perceiving himself as foolish, bestial, and uncultured, he presented a thoroughly modern, powerfully intimate, yet ultimately debased representation.

Carriès formed this head, one of his most celebrated works, with plaster in a many-pieced mold. He then shellacked it to give it a patina resembling metal. He also made other versions in plaster, wax, clay, and bronze.