The J. Paul Getty Museum

Polycrates Hanged

Object Details


Polycrates Hanged


Boucicaut Master Illuminator (French, active about 1390 - 1430)




Paris, France (Place Created)


about 1413–1415


Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold paint, and ink

Object Number:

Ms. 63 (96.MR.17), fol. 106


Leaf: 42 × 29.6 cm (16 9/16 × 11 5/8 in.)

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Object Description

Polycrates, the tyrannous ruler of the Aegean island of Samos, stands beside the river into which he tossed a golden ring covered with precious stones, hoping to divert future bad luck. Boccaccio's story tells that he found the ring again in a fish's belly, but the artist or his adviser misinterpreted the story. Confusing the French word for ring, annel, with that for lamb, agnel, the Boucicaut Master painted the fish returning a lamb to Polycrates instead of his ring.

Despite his luck with the ring, a dire fate awaited Polycrates. Seeking to capture the riches of Samos, the Persian governor of Sardis imprisoned Polycrates and had him executed. The artist contrasted Polycrates' hanging with the fortuitous return of the ring. These two scenes succinctly demonstrate the theme of the entire book: the vacillating nature of fortune.

Illuminating Color (May 22 to August 26, 2001)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), May 22 to August 26, 2001