The Judgement of ParisCa. 1638. Oil on canvas, 199 x 381 cm.
The mythological story of the Judgment of Paris begins with the wedding of Thetis and Peleus, where Eris, goddess of Discord, challenged the most beautiful goddesses to take a golden apple which she threw among the guests. Juno, Minerva and Venus started to argue and Jupiter decided to give the apple to Mercury and let Paris be the judge of this dispute. This judgment is told by the Roman poet Ovid (in the book Heroides, XVI, 65-88), Paris would choose Venus as the winner. In return, the goddess gave him Helena of Troy, provoking the war of Troy.
The theme of the Judgment of Paris was used by Rubens on several occasions. It allowed him to display his ideal of female beauty, and also to consider the consequences of love and passion. This version is based on a design for a ewer that Rubens made. In the drawing for the ewer, the scene is larger and with more figures to the right and to the left. In the painting he decided to focus more on the three naked figures. The bodies are painted using sinuous lines, and exaggerated gestures. Paint is applied in brushstrokes that don’t always blend with each other, and that call attention to themselves. This way of painting is characteristic of Rubens later works, and is a result of his admiration of Venetian painting.
This painting was a personal commission by King Philip IV of Spain from Rubens in 1637-1638, a time when he was already working on other projects for the same patron. The king´s brother, Cardinal-Infante don Fernando de Austria, who was governor of the Southern Netherlands, handled the commission and wrote about it in several letters. He considered this one of Rubens´s best works, but was concerned about the nudity of the three women.
The painting was sent to Madrid in 1639, and was placed in the Buen Retiro Palace, where it is first inventoried in 1666.
The Prado owns another painting of the judgment of Paris by Rubens, made during his youth (P-1731).
Revised and updated information by the Flemish and Northern European Paintings Department, Museo del Prado (March, 2015)