The Judgement of Paris

The Judgement of Paris

Luca Cambiaso
1527 Moneglia – 1585 El Escorial

The Judgement of Paris

Oil on canvas, Nr. O 1211

In all likelihood, this remarkable painting was originally housed in the collections of Emperor Rudolf II at Prague Castle. This assumption is corroborated by records in some of the Rudolfine inventories dating from 1621 to 1648.
Described as Judicium de Paris vom Luca de Jenua, the painting – formerly placed in a space between two galleries – is listed under the number 1009 in the inventory from 1621. According to the 1623 inventory, the picture was to be (or was) sold for 300 guilders, along with 56 paintings with erotic subjects to Daniel de Brierß, a goldsmith and merchant of Frankfurt. However, not all of the paintings intended for De Brierß seem to have been sold or transferred to Frankfurt as some of them subsequently emerged in various aristocratic collections. This painting must have remained at Prague Castle because the work is recorded in the inventories drawn up between the years 1635–1648. However, there is no further mention of the picture in the Prague Castle gallery’s later inventories that were written up in the course of the 18th century. Conceivably, the painting was sold to Strahov either directly, or later on, from a yet-unspecified aristocratic collection. Besides The Judgement of Paris, there was another painting by Cambiaso in Rudolf’s collection, listed under the number 1196, that represented Callisto Bathing, which hung in Prague Castle’s Spanish Hall. How both of Cambiaso’s paintings arrived in Rudolf’s collection remains undetermined. All we know is that the Emperor employed many art advisors and art dealers, whose task it was to purchase paintings all over Europe for him. Many works arrived at Prague Castle in the form of gifts.
The paintings Diana and Callisto in Turin (Galleria Sabauda) and The Death of Adonis in Rome (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica – Palazzo Barberini) are stylistic variations of this painting. Analogous in style and composition with Titian-esque prototypes and dated to the early 1570s, these two canvases assimilate the lessons of Cambiaso’s Venetian training. In all its stylistic traits, The Judgement of Paris correlates with Cambiaso’s brushwork. His style is distinguished by soft brush strokes that dissolve the shadows into an expressive chiaroscuro enshrouding the exposed bodies and faces, a cool and restrained tonality, a confident and keen handling of the brush applied in thin, translucent layers of colour, a correlation between the light skin tones and the green and pinkish hues, and last but least, the type of figures. By the early 1570s, to which we date the production of this Strahov picture, the artist abandoned the visually-compelling palette of cool colours and sumptuous painterly treatment, striving instead for a renewed balance between subdued tonality and deliberate, refined brushwork. In doing so, he transformed his religious subjects into tools of meditation and restrained the erotic charge of his secular themes, thus divesting his work of all forms of double-entendre sensuality.

(text Z. Kazlepka)