The subject derives from Homer's 'Iliad' (XXIV, 25-30). Jupiter sent Eris, the personification of strife, to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis and she provoked a quarrel between Juno, Minerva and Venus as to who was the most beautiful. Mercury brought the goddesses to the shepherd Paris to be judged. In the foreground Paris hands the golden apple marked 'to the fairest' to Venus; Juno is on the left and Minerva (with helmet and spears) on the right. Paris' choice led to the outbreak of the Trojan war. Paris is seated in the centre with Mercury behind him.
The artist has given the figures, with their characteristically contrived poses, an opulent setting filled with flowers and a variety of animals. This painting is unusual in combining the Judgement of Paris with the wedding scene (right background). The subject, giving prominence the female nude from a variety of angles, was a popular one in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and is the theme of an early painting by Rubens in the National Gallery's Collection ('The Judgement of Paris').
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