Dated by Arisi (Gian Paolo Panini, 1st edn., Piacenza, 1961, no. 217) to circa 1750, this painting represents an important rarity within Panini's oeuvre. As noted by De Logu in the catalogue of the 1937 exhibition in Vienna, the composition combines aspects familiar within the artist's work - the capriccio elements of classical and baroque ruins (including a fountain with water coming from the mouth of one of the lions from beside the stairs to the Campidoglio) - but combines these with a predominant pastoral lyricism found almost nowhere else within it. The landscape recalls the work of Andrea Locatelli, with whom Panini had studied at the beginning of his career, following his move to Rome in 1711 (interestingly the influence was mutual - visible for example in Locatelli's Three Figures at the Ruins of the Temple of Vespasian [private collection, Rome; see A. Busiri Vici, Andrea Locatelli e il paesaggio romano del settecento, Rome, 1976, fig. 5]). At the same time, however, Locatelli's style is softened by the rich brushwork developed by Panini over his career and so indicative of his mature style. As such, the present work represents Panini's most developed interpretation of the tradition of classical landscape.
Different aspects of this subject had been a popular theme in both Italy and the North from the 16th Century. According to the legend, Athene, who had invented the flute, threw it away in disgust, because it distorted the features. Marsyas, a satyr, found it, and having acquired great skill in playing it, challenged Apollo to a contest with his lyre (the legend of the contest possibly derives from Marsyas' representing the art of the flute as opposed to the lyre: the one the accompaniment of the worship of Cybele, the other that of the worship of Apollo). Midas, king of Phrygia, who had been appointed judge, declared in favour of Marsyas, and Apollo punished Midas by changing his ears into those of an ass. Midas' punishment was often interpreted as a warning against choices for earthly enjoyments, but the Judgment of Midas was often interpreted as an allegory of the uninformed connoisseur; it may be that the present work was painted, or commissioned, with that undercurrent in mind.