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Judgement of Paris

  • Object:

    Woodcut

  • Place of origin:

    Wittenberg (made)

  • Date:

    1508 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Cranach, Lucas the elder I, born 1472 - died 1553 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Woodcut on paper

  • Museum number:

    E.578-1890

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case EW, shelf 140, box B

In this print Lucas Cranach placed a mythological scene in a real landscape, recognisable as the river Elbe and the Schrammstein cliffs.

The subject is the Judgment of Paris. Paris, son of King Triam of Troy, is selected to choose which of the goddess Minerva, Venus and Juno, is the fairest. They appear before Paris while he sleeps and attempt to bribe him to influence his choice. He chooses Venus for her prize, the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Greece. According to legend this story started the Trojan War. Cranach was one of the first to depict the subject in large artworks, though it was known in book illustration. He returned to it often, making around a dozen paintings as well as two prints.

Cranach was court artist in Wittenberg to Elector Frederick III of Saxony, whose ducal and electoral arms appear here. He may have got the subject through his connections with Wittenberg's new humanist university. The subject was used in a lecture to students in 1503 as an allegory of the choice between a contemplative (Minerva), active (Juno) or voluptuous (Venus) life. It was also found in manuscripts illustrating alchemy, where it represented the three final stages of making the philosopher's stone.

The subject would also honour his patron, who claimed to trace his lineage back to the Trojans. Frederick III would have seen a live tableau of the subject, described in Jean Molinet's chronicle, when he attended Philip the Fair's crowning as regent in 1494. The subject was often performed as an allegory or marriage or the importance of choosing virtue over pleasure.

Physical description

Set in woodland against a backdrop featuring a river running through a mountain valley to the right is a rocky outcrop on which stands a castle. This landscape backdrop is largely recognisable as the river Elbe and the Schrammstein cliffs, with some alterations.

Depicting the scene set in the woods at Ida in which the three goddesses Minerva, Venus and Juno, accompanied by their guide Mercury, appear before Paris, son of King Triam of Troy to ask him to choose which of them is fairest. They attempt to bribe him to influence his choice. He chooses Venus for her prize, the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Greece. According to legend this story started the Trojan War.

With the electoral and ducal arms of Elector Frederick of Saxony and the emblem of Lucas Cranach, all hanging from a tree.

Place of Origin

Wittenberg (made)

Date

1508 (made)

Artist/maker

Cranach, Lucas the elder I, born 1472 - died 1553 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Woodcut on paper

Marks and inscriptions

LC
signed on block

1508
dated on block

Dimensions

Height: 36.7 cm trimmed, Width: 25.7 cm trimmed

Object history note

Purchsed from G Lauser, 16 August 1890.

Historical context note

Cranach placed this against a real landscape backdrop, recognisable as the river Elbe and the Schrammstein cliffs.

Cranach was one of the first to depict the subject in large artworks, though it was known in book illustration. He returned to it often, making around a dozen paintings as well as two prints.

Cranach went to the Low Countries in 1508 in the entourage of Emperor Maximilian to the court of his daughter Margaret of Austria. It has been suggested that Cranach's print of the Judgement of Paris was also presented to Maximilian on behalf of Cranach's patron.

Cranach was court artist in Wittenberg to Elector Frederick III of Saxony, whose ducal and electoral arms appear here. Wittenberg was also centre of a new humanist university founded in 1502. The subject was used in a lecture to students in 1503 as an allegory of the choice between a contemplative (Minerva), active (Juno) or voluptuous (Venus) life. It was also found in manuscripts illustrating alchemy, where it represented the three final stages of making the philosopher's stone.

Cranach's patron claimed to trace his lineage back to the Trojans. Frederick III would have seen a live tableau of the subject, described in Jean Molinet's chronicle, when he attended Philip the Fair's crowning as regent in 1494. The subject was often performed as an allegory or marriage or the importance of choosing virtue over pleasure.

Descriptive line

Judgement of Paris, Lucas Cranach, woodcut; Wittenberg, Germany, 1508.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Edwards, Nancy E. 'Cranach's Judgment of Paris', in Apollo Magazine. October, 2007.
Wehle, Harry B. 'A Judgment of Paris by Cranach', in Metropolitan Museum Studies. Vol. 2, No. 1 (Nov., 1929), pp. 1-12.
Nickel, Helmut. ' "The Judgment of Paris" by Lucas Cranach the Elder: Nature, Allegory, and Alchemy', in Metropolitan Museum Journal. Vol. 16 (1981), pp. 117-129.
Bartsch, Adam von, 1757-1821. The illustrated Bartsch. New York : Abaris Books, 1978-, no. 114.
Hollstein, F. W. H. German engravings, etchings, and woodcuts, ca. 1400-1700. Amsterdam : M. Hertzberger, 1954-
Bartsch, Adam von. Peintre-Graveur. Vienna, 1803-1821.

Materials

Ink; Paper

Techniques

Wood-cutting

Subjects depicted

Armour; Jewellery; Horse; Knight; Birds; Heraldry; Landscapes (representations); Dog; Peacock feathers; Apple

Categories

Prints; Woodcuts

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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