(active 1430-40 in Florence)

The Judgment of Paris

Tempera on wood, diameter 70 cm
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence

This painted dish may have been given as a wedding present to a newly married couple. The theme, suited to the occasion, is a story connected with a wedding. Paris, who had not been invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, threw a golden apple inscribed "For the Fairest" among the guests. In the upper left part of the picture the three goddesses vying for the prize are depicted. The decision was left to Paris, who chose Aphrodite.

We know that the cult of antiquity played a major role in the emergence of the Italian Renaissance. Although the classic artistic idiom remained alien to the upper classes of Florence, they did like the stories of antiquity. These legends, precious for their very antiquity (their origins lost in the mists of ancient history), were considered to be part of these people's glorious heritage. They had the stories represented in the most fashionable and elegant manner, in the sophisticated idiom of the International Gothic style, putting themselves into the roles of the elegant heroes of mythology, but attired in the clothes of the patrons' own period. (It may be suspected that in both groups of the goddesses, Aphrodite is the bride herself, while Paris is an idealized likeness of the bridegroom.)

The scene in the foreground takes place in a bare, rocky landscape, whilst the preceding episode occurs on a verdant lawn, in front of a dense forest. The different localities are separated by two imagined straight lines, intersecting near the middle of the circle. The steep rise of the ground bars a view of the horizon and thus an enclosed, homogeneous field is created, which felicitously fits the circular frame, which is also an enclosed shape. The precipice separating the beholder from the foreground and the impenetrable woods which close down the background also contribute to the creation of the unified internal world of the picture.

The painter of this ornamental dish is referred to as the Master of the Judgment of Paris. He is probably Cecchino da Verona, who originated from Northern Italy, but was active in Florence. He found an ingenious solution to distinguish the deities of Greek myths from ordinary mortals, without endowing the former with the halo due to the saints of Christianity: the goddesses wear golden diadems, which resemble aureoles, but do not wholly surround their heads.

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