The Judgment of Paris
by Ludovico David, Swiss 1648-1728
SN 11033 Oil on Canvas 1690

by Robert Anderson

Born in Lugano, Switzerland, David went to Milan as a teenager to study with Francesco del Cairo. He later painted in Venice in the dark, dramatic, fully Baroque manner of his teacher. While in Venice he operated an art academy in which he played down the importance of drawing, making it secondary to the painters own ideas. In 1686, at age 38, he moved to Rome where he spent the rest of his life.

David is now recognized as the first true scholar of Leonardo da Vinci but is even better known for his treatise entitled L'amore dell'arte. In this work David disputed the dominant position given to life drawing and drapery studies by the art establishment of Rome represented by the Accademia di S. Luca. It challenged the system of art education at the Accademia and elsewhere which had given primacy to the drawing from live models. His theory is now seen as anticipating the Rococo age and Romanticism.

This painting depicts the aftermath of the Judgement of Paris. This story, from Greek mythology, describes a contest in which three goddesses appeared before a shepherd, Paris, who was to decide which of the three was the fairest. Each of the three offered Paris a reward if he would choose her the fairest. Minerva (Athena), goddess of wisdom and war, offered victory in battle; Juno (Hera), wife of Jupiter/Zeus, offered land and riches; and Venus (Aphrodite), goddess of love, offered the love of the world's most beautiful woman. Paris chose Venus and was awarded Helen of Troy. The elopement of Paris and Helen set off the Trojan War which eventually led to the founding of Rome.

This painting, which was done during the artists Roman years, couples late Roman classicism with the more sensuous plasticity of earlier Bolognese artists. It also shows a taste for the dramatic lighting and chiaroscuro that came from Francesco del Cairo and the Milanese tradition. This work is a superb example of what is called High Baroque style, which is characterized by twisting, sculptural forms, swirling draperies, and unusual color and lighting effects.

David's depiction of the aftermath of the contest is quite comic. Athena seems unperturbed and nonchalantly retrieves her armor. Juno looks out of the painting and seems to offer worldly power to another taker ( presumably the aristocratic patron of this painting). Venus seems in no hurry to get dressed, and it is up to her son Cupid to protect her modesty - he holds up her drapery while smiling at us.

Historical Context:
David's treatise, despite a querulous tone, is important in anticipating, by more than half a century, the Romantic position of the artist , who is freed from the strictures of the establishment and thus able to follow the dictates of his own genius.

The humorous sophistication of the current painting presages later light mythologies painted by 18th century Rococo artists such as Francois Boucher.