POUSSIN, Nicolas
(b. 1594, Les Andelys, d. 1665, Roma)

The Judgment of Solomon

Oil on canvas, 101 x 150 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba, and third king of united Israel; his wisdom was proverbial. Solomon's rein saw the construction of the Temple at Jerusalem.

According to the biblical story Solomon was called upon to judge between the claims of two prostitutes who dwelt in one house, each of whom had given birth to a child at the same time. One infant had died and each woman then claimed that the other belonged to her. To determine the truth the king ordered a sword to be brought, saying, 'Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.' At this, the true mother revealed herself by renouncing her claim to the child in order that its life might be spared. The child was restored to her.

The scene, widely depicted in Christian art, shows Solomon on his throne, the two suppliant women before him. An executioner stands holding the living child aloft in one hand, with a sword in the other. The dead child lies in the hand of one of the women. The subject was made to prefigure the Last Judgment, and came to be used as a symbol of Justice in a wider sense.

There are many preparatory drawings to this painting in various French museums.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 3 minutes):
George Frideric Handel: Solomon - Chorus: Your harps and cymbals