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Peter Paul Rubens, The Judgement of Paris

Key facts
Full title The Judgement of Paris
Artist Peter Paul Rubens
Artist dates 1577 - 1640
Date made about 1597-9
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 133.9 × 174.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1966
Inventory number NG6379
Location Room 18
Collection Main Collection
The Judgement of Paris
Peter Paul Rubens

This painting depicts a critical moment in classical mythology. The man on the left with his back to us is Paris, who had been raised as a shepherd but was actually a prince of Troy. He has been asked to judge a beauty contest between the goddesses Venus, Juno and Minerva, and to award a golden apple to the winner. We see Paris hand the apple to Venus, won over by her promise to reward him with the love of the most beautiful mortal woman – Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta.

It is a choice that will lead to Paris’ eventual abduction of Helen, the Greeks' attempts to recapture her and the eventual destruction of Troy. Here, however, his decision is not depicted as a portent, but is hailed by the god Mercury, while four putti descend from the sky to assist in Venus’ coronation. Juno, a look of fury developing on her face, reaches out as though to try and intervene, while Minerva, her back to us, has yet to react.

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