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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

The Judgment of Paris

Photo: Susan Cole

The Judgment of Paris

ca. 1516-18

Lucas Cranach the Elder

German, Wittenberg, 1472 - 1553

Cranach treats this famous beauty contest as a deadpan comedy. Unable to rouse the attention of Paris, who is being shaken awake by Mercury, the three nude goddesses draw our gaze instead with their sleek bodies and coy self-confidence. The richly detailed armor, metallic leaves and stylized clouds are characteristic of Cranach's brand of mannerism, which appealed to his patrons of the Saxon court.
Oil on wood
25 x 16 1/2 in. (63.5 x 41.9 cm)
LeRoy M. Backus Collection
Provenance: Kroger Collection, Hamburg, Germany; Baron von Schenck Collection, Flechtingen Castle near Magdeburg, Germany, by 1910; John Ringling (1866-1936), Sarasota, Florida, by 1931; sold, via [Julius Böhler, Munich, Germany] to [Kunsthandel AG Luzern, Lucerne, Switzerland] and [Paul Cassirer, Berlin, Germany] (jointly owned), 1932; {possibly sold to Georg Tillmann (1882-1941), Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 1933 until ca. 1938-39} [1]; {Firma D. Katz, Dieren, the Netherlands} [2]; sold to LeRoy M. Backus (1879-1948), New York and Seattle, by 1939; Estate of LeRoy M. Backus, 1948-1952; bequeathed to Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 1952 [1] “Tillmann, Amsterdam” listed as ex-collection in Schaeffer Galleries Bulletin, no. 6 (November 1948): cat. no. 1, reproduced. Ex-collection “Tillmann, Amsterdam” reproduced again in 1952 catalogue published by the Seattle Art Museum, The LeRoy M. Backus Memorial Collection; cat. no. 2. [2] Schaeffer Galleries records, ca. 1921-1982, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, contains correspondence between LeRoy M. Backus, Pacific Coast Director of the Schaeffer Galleries, New York, and the Firm of D. Katz, Holland, confirming the purchase of the painting and awaiting formal Bill of Sale.
Photo: Susan Cole
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum

He was endowed with a sense of chic which would make him the patron saint of all fashion designers.

Sir Kenneth Clark, The Nude (1956)

A Popular Subject

The Judgment of Paris, ca. 1512-1514, Lucas Cranach the Elder
The Judgment of Paris, possibly ca. 1528, Lucas Cranach the Elder
The Judgment of Paris, ca. 1530, Lucas Cranach the Elder

Why is Paris Asleep?

According to a medieval romance that recounted the Judgment of Paris (Guido da Columna, Historia destructionis Troiae, 1287), Paris became lost in a thicket, tied his horse to a tree and fell into a deep sleep until Mercury awakened him.
Detail of Paris sleeping, 52.38
Photo: Paul Macapia

Why Are the Goddesses Naked?

In the visual treatment of subjects from classical mythology, it was conventional for gods and goddesses-the inhabitants of an idealized Arcadia-to be shown in the nude. Mythological subject matter gave Renaissance artists the opportunity to portray the human body, and their abilities in this regard increasingly became the measure of an artist's skill.
Detail of goddesses, 52.38
Photo: Paul Macapia

The Beauty Myth

In a story originating in Greek mythology and retold by the Roman poet Ovid, Jupiter sent the messenger god Mercury to enlist Paris, the prince of Troy, to judge which of three goddesses was the most beautiful. The rivals bribed Paris with offers of wealth and power (Juno), military strength (Minerva), and the love of the most beautiful woman in the world (Venus). Paris succumbed to Venus' offer and then abducted Helen of Troy, igniting the Trojan War.
Detail, 52.38
Photo: Paul Macapia

Cranach and the Nude

Female Nude from Behind, 1495, Albrecht Dürer
Louvre, Paris, France, Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY, J.G. Berizzi

Cranach and Mannerism

Photo: Susan A. Cole
Allegory of Justice, Temperance (?), and Fame (?), ca. 1572, Stradanus (Jan van der Straet), 2006.126
Leda and the Swan and Her Children, ca. 1540, Vincent Sellaer, 2004.31


Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, Seattle Art Museum, describes The Judgment of Paris


Exhibition History{Possibly Springfield, Massachusetts, Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, Jan. 1939 [listed on SAM accession card, but Springfield's records show exhibitions of photography, modern German art, and photography in 1939; no record of Old Masters exhibition].}

New York, New York, Schaeffer Gallery, The Backus Collection at the Schaeffer Galleries, Nov. 1948. Cat. no. 1, reproduced.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Le Roy M. Backus Memorial Collection, 1952.

Osaka, Japan, Expo Museum of Fine Arts, 1970.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Medieval, Renaissance & Baroque Galleries, Dec. 24, 1998 - Dec. 24, 1999.
Published ReferencesFlechsig, Eduard. "Cranachstudien," Erster Teil. Leipzig: Karl W. Hiersemann, 1900, p. 271 (

Ameseder, Rudolf. "Ein Parisurteil Lukas Cranachs d. A. in der Landesgalerie zu Graz," in Repertorium fur Kunstwissenschaft, XXXIII Band. Berlin: Druck und verlag von Georg Reimer, 1910 (reprinted Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1968), pp. 68-70

Friedlaender, Max J. and Rosenberg, J. "Die Gemaelde von Lucas Cranach." Berlin: Deutscher Verein fur Kunstwissenschaft, 1932 (reprinted in English Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978, no. 118, illus.), p. 49, no. 99, pl. 99

Deusch, Werner R. "German Painting of the 16th Century: Durer and His Contemporaries." London: A. Zwemmer, 1936, p. 27, no. 57
[in German: Winkler-Deusch, "Deutsch Malerei des 16. Jahrhunderts"]

Seattle Art Museum. "Le Roy M. Backus Memorial Collection." Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1952, no. 2, illus.

Seattle Art Museum. "Annual Report, 1952." Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1952, p. 11, illus. fig. 19

Miller, Henry in ARGUS, June 20, 1969, p. 6, illus.

Expo Museum of Fine Arts. "The March Toward Freedom", Volume IV. Osaka: Expo Museum of Fine Arts, 1970, pp. 216-217, illus. p. 216

Nickel, Helmut. "The Judgment of Paris by Lucas Cranach the Elder: Nature, Allegory, and Alchemy," in The Metropolitan Museum Journal 16. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1982, p. 124, fig. 10

Stewart, Stanley. "Spenser and the Judgement of Paris" in Spenser Studies. AMS Press, 1989-1990

Ishikawa, Chiyo et al. "Selected Works." Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1991, p. 88

Ishikawa, Chiyo. "The Samuel H. Kress Collection at the Seattle Art Museum" Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, 1997, fig. 4, p. 18

Kodansha. Weekly World Travel, No. 94, 2000, p. 16

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