MANUEL, Niklaus
(b. ca. 1484, Bern, d. 1530, Bern)

The Judgment of Paris

Tempera on canvas, 223 x 160 cm
Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel

This scene from Greek mythology is transported in a highly personal fashion to a German forest with contemporary figures. Paris appears as a Swiss country gentleman who has just presented Venus with the apple as her prize. Juno and Minerva have turned aside following their defeat.

Juno corresponds with Paris in the colours of her clothes, while Minerva is similarly related to Venus. From a branch of the tree, blindfolded Cupid - a symbol of love, which blinds - shoots an arrow at Paris. The two coats of arms hanging from the boughs belong to the family of Benedicht Brunner, a councillor of Berne, who in all probability commissioned the painting.

There is a strange discrepancy between the classical theme and the thoroughly anti-classical female ideal represented by the women, whose curved bellies can be traced back to Dürer. Manuel compensates for his difficulties with anatomy in the extreme delicacy with which he draws the faces.

Employing the unusual technique of tempera on canvas, Manuel invokes a pastel-like palette of great charm. In details such as Venus' diaphanous dress he demonstrates the sophistication of his art. The composition, in which the figures are arranged as if in relief against the shadowy background of a wood, recalls Gobelin tapestries.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 3 minutes):
Cristoph Willibald Gluck: Paride ed Elena, Paris' aria