The Judgment of Paris was among the most popular mythological scenes by Cranach. Eleven additional treatments by the artist and several workshop versions survive. Ours is closest to the autograph painting in the Seattle Art Museum dated to 1516-1518.
Rather than the main action of the narrative, Paris’s decision, the painting focuses on the goddesses. Paris’s role of choosing the fairest is thus turned over to the viewer. And yet, the goddesses are undifferentiated, making each an alluring choice.
Paris’s contemporary steel armor contrasts sharply with the bearded Mercury’s fantastic copper-colored armor, including skin-tight fish-scaled leggings and peacock-feathered elements. He stands over Paris in a dynamic pose, bending down to awaken him with a gentle tug on his shoulder.
The three goddesses, wearing jewelry and little else, wait for this first-ever beauty contest to begin. They are depicted with almost identical faces and bodies, varying only in the positions in which we view them and they view us.
Paris’s verdict was a fateful one. He gave the golden apple to Venus and was rewarded with Helen, whom he carried off to Troy. The Greeks then mounted an expedition to reclaim her, thus beginning the Trojan War.