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Marcantonio Raimondi - The Judgment of Paris

by Alexandra Tuschka

A well-known example of the theme "the judgment of Paris", which had a lasting influence on related iconography in Italy, is the engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi. However, the composition of the image goes back to a drawing by Raphael, who commissioned Raimondi to transfer it into the graphic medium. Athena, who has already laid down her helmet and shield at her feet, catches the viewer's eye in the center of the picture. The beautiful silhouette of her feminine curves can be seen from behind. Through her posture open to the left, she conveys to the main action of the engraving. Aphrodite, the woman to her left is recognizable by the small cupid tugging at her drapery. She takes over the apple from the hands of Paris, who sits on a stone and looks at the beauty in awe. Dog and shepherd's crook surround the muscular youth. He wears a Phrygian cap as an indication of his Asian origin. So here the decision has already been made. 

Of course, Hera is also present in the partial scene. Her attribute, the peacock, has positioned itself between Paris and her. The messenger of the gods, Hermes, can be seen in the background. Two groups of people made up of demigods and nymphs flank the painting. There are three people in each, one of whom stands out from the others in the way she turns her body. There is also a lot going on in the sky. An angel comes to honor the most beautiful also symbolically with a victory wreath. In the center the sky opens for the entrance of the sun god Apollo. On the right the enthroned Zeus drives imposingly into the picture. He has given the decision as to who is the most beautiful to Paris.

It is quite easy to understand that the graphic has a sexual content due to the many naked bodies. David Lang Clark even wanted to recognize the act of masturbation in the hand positions of Venus and Paris. Both protagonists would thus act out on the canvas what the viewer would only be able to do in front of the canvas.1 It is more likely, however, that Raphael alluded to the fixed form representation of the ancient Venus Pudica in the drawing.

In particular, the rather space-filling group on the right draws the viewer's attention away from the actual main action of the piece. This suggests that the artist was not exclusively concerned with depicting the judgment of Paris, but that the study of the body should be linked to a historical scene. Raphael took some of the postures from ancient reliefs. Ancient originals thus became original new creations.


Marcantonio Raimondi - The Judgment of Paris

copperplate engraving, ca.1515/16, State Gallery in Stuttgart, Germany


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