The Judgement of Paris - Reviewing evidential standards

November 23, 2011

Truth has no beginning or end
De Veritate
Anselm of Canterbury

A series of recent posts at Art History Today have featured the work of art historian Greame Cameron. In a newly published volume, Cameron introduces a seemingly new modality to art analysis, and proceeds to outline some startling new claims about works related to old masters including Leonardo and Raphael. One of the great announcements of this new book was the attribution to Raphael of a piece depicting The Judgement of Paris. As attribution methodology is the focus of my own Raphael project, I used this opportunity to explore the claims made by Cameron, to provide readers with a clear appraisal of information presented at Art History Today.

The previously described guidelines on approaching information on new attributions will be applied to the report of Cameron's attribution to Raphael.

The Judgement of Paris
Dated 1512
Oil on canvas
56 x 71 cm
Malmesbury collection, Heron Court. UK

Attribution History
*As the piece is in a private collection there is no prevailing institutional attribution
*Formerly assigned and variously exhibited as a Giorgione. Since relegated as a follower piece of either Giorgione, or a copy of a lost original by Titian (Joannides 2010).
*Presented by Cameron as an autograph Raphael piece based primarily on iconographic factors and an alleged resemblance of the figures to Raphael and his lover, Margerita Luti.

Date and signature?
The 1512 date is given via an inscription on the apple held by the reclining male figure, and also in the headband of the central female. Accompanying the date on the apple are the letters "Rv" It is uncertain whether these features have been reported before Cameron's publication. Images are not reproduced in the article at Art History Today, and there is presently no clarification of the date being in Roman numerals, as seen in other Raphael pieces. The article does mention the apple was added later ("by Raphael") but without clarification of whether the date is part of the original paint layer. It should be noted this type of examination is ideally made via microscopy.

Provenance (reported at Art History Today)
1512-1649 The origin and location for completion of this piece are unknown via documentary sources

Venetian 1648-1770
1648  Casa Leoni, near Venice. Attributed to Giorgione by Carlo Ridolfi, in Le Maraviglie dell Arte

Malmesbury collection, Heron Court, UK: 1770 - present
1770 - Acquired by the James Harris (father of 1st Earl of Malmesbury) in Venice

The Judgement of Paris was a popular theme in antiquity. Extant examples of mosaic, pottery, jewellery and coins from Europe and northern Africa depict this scene, mentioned across several textual sources. The story was a prelude to the Iliad, its original source being linked to an epic poem in the Trojan cycle known as the Cypria, which survives only as fragments in commentaries.

The tale of the judgement evolved over the centuries. Its distillation via Ovid and Apuleius describes Trojan prince Paris holding the golden apple created by Eris, the goddess of strife. Written on the apple was the word Kallisti denoting it was intended for the "most beautiful." Hera, Athena and Aphrodite descend to find Paris, often shown tending animals and playing a Lyre. Each issue a promise should Paris award the apple (and title of most beautiful) to her. Aphrodite disrobes, and Paris succumbs.

The reward promised to Paris eventually came in the form of Helen of Sparta. In an allegorical sense, the use of this motif in art and literature aims to capture the perils of love, and the nature of temptation, as Paris' hasty choice was to ensure the destruction of Troy. Volumes of verbose meandering on the topic, most notably by Hubert Damisch explore the theme in more detail (and arguably over analyse it). For attribution purposes, it is a theme that was familiar to Renaissance artists and desirable to their patrons. This factor on its own does not allow us to narrow down the work to any particular artist.

   Attic Hydria depicting the Judgement of Paris. c.400BCE. British Museum

In Italy, Medieval translations of Ovid's Heroides are the most likely source for the key elements of the story. Translations of sections of the Heroides can be tracked across twelfth century manuscripts, with relative lulls in production in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, then a revival in the late fifteenth century. Cosimo de' Medici is noted as owning a manuscript Latin version, with printed editions also appearing in Venice in 1491 and 1494 with a commentary by Antonius Volscis.

From Heroides XVI: The Letter of Paris to Helen:
From there, reclining against a tree, I was looking forth upon the walls and lofty roofs of the Dardanian city, and upon the sea, when lo! it seemed to me that the earth trembled beneath the tread of feet – I shall speak true words, though they will scarce have credit for truth – and there appeared and stood before my eyes, propelled on pinions swift, the grandchild of mighty Atlas and Pelione [ie. Hermes/Mercury].... And, lest I should refuse, he laid command on me in the name of Jove, and forthwith through the paths of ether betook him toward the stars.
Ovid's epistles however do not contain a reference to the golden apple. This part of the story was mentioned in other texts, though its journey into the Italian perception of the story was likely through translations of Apuleius Metamorphoses, sometimes called Asinum Aureus (The Golden Ass) - a 2nd century CE text, which also persisted through the Middle Ages and entered print in the fifteenth century (Glaisser). From a 1566 (modified) English  translation by Adlington:
...whereby you might conjecture that he was Mercury, with his rod called Caduceus, he bore in his right hand an Apple of gold, and with a seemly gate went towards him that represented Paris, and after he had delivered him the Apple, he made a sign, signifying that Jupiter had commanded him so to do: when he had done his message he departed away.

 Detail from Raimondi's famous engraving, based on a Raphael design

This theme's trajectory in art is worthy of a detailed study. To date an historiographical analysis of this has not been completed. Damisch's famous volume, whilst fascinating, traverses too widely beyond the images to be acceptable as a meta-analysis. 

 Botticelli & workshop. The Judgement of Paris. c.1485-88. Fondiazione Giorgio Cini, Venice

To list some examples, versions by Botticelli and (attributed to) Veneziano are noted to appear in the late fifteenth century, though these are not classically modelled. A strong argument can be made that  Raphael's adaptation of ancient sarcophagi designs, and Raimondi's famous engraving of it helped re-launch this theme in a classical style across Europe in the early sixteenth century.*

There is a succinct northern Italian element to the depiction of background and the mode of colour used. This explains the previous attribution to Giorgione, and the more recent conclusion of a Titian copy. These conclusions are based on visual and stylistic factors. Hence, looking at the same visual and stylistic factors, Cameron envisages Raphael - somewhat uniquely - painting in a style more akin to a northern or Venetian artist. In Raphael's other known works there is no example of a pastoral backdrop rendered in such a manner. The use of colour seems a departure from the unione mode that represents Raphael's Umbrian and Florentine lessons. Cameron proposes that this work marked the influence of Raphael's exposure to Sebastiano del Piombo. It is easier to demonstrate this influence in Raphael's handling of fresco, and possibly the use of canvas as a medium, but anything more than this requires technical/documentary corroboration, notably absent in this instance. (see also section on surface)

Further problems are presented to an attribution when documentary evidence related to the work does not exist. The earliest provenance is recorded as 1648. Having combed through Shearman's Raphael in Early Modern Sources for Raphael's entire Roman period, among the known correspondence between Raphael and his contemporaries, such a panel, executed on canvas is not mentioned. Whilst this does not allow us to rule Raphael out, it must be recognised that having a contemporary document would make the tentative attribution to Raphael a more feasible proposition.  The most firmly established pieces in Raphael's catalogue have this thread of documentary evidence. Arguing that a piece is autograph in the absence of documentary evidence is made at the author's peril.

The earliest provenance information being in Venice, and the overall style and mode of colour in the painting have resulted in the persistent Venetian attribution. Unlike other pieces that have been linked to Raphael and since accepted or demoted as follower pieces, the link to Raphael in this instance is unprecedented. 

Condition (formerly reported as connoisseurship)
Some further problems are encountered in the report of 'technical' details. In his publication, Cameron introduces a modality known as vega-scanning. It should be clarified that this method of scanning, is at present undocumented in its use in art analysis. It is unclear whether the device used is the same is the vega scanner used in industry and technical applications.

Another concern is whether this scanning modality is applied to the work itself or an image of it. In the case of the latter, this weakens the validity of any scan findings considerably. Uses of technology, in any discipline require that standardised, reproducible test results give information about the object being examined. When the object examined is a facsimile of the intended object, some concerns about their efficacy must be raised. Vega-scanning may or may not be a relevant modality to art analysis - in the absence of a large body of case studies to verify this, the relevance of findings generated by it in this instance must be questioned.

Unfortunately, the report does not describe if more established means of testing have been performed on the actual painting. An infrared, X-ray or high resolution (multi-spectral) scan can provide more information on under-surface preparation, which would allow comparison to known Raphael pieces.

It is perhaps a misconception to report Raphael's use of canvas as an uniquely Roman addition. Admittedly, the absolute majority of extant works in Raphael's pre-Roman phases were completed on wood panel. It must be mentioned however, that a work on canvas, a processional banner executed c.1500 is cited in several scholarly catalogues as one of Raphael's earliest individual pieces. This work, now quite badly damaged, was painted for the Citta di Castello, depicting Saint Sebastian and Roch on one side, and the creation of Eve on the other. In Raphael's Roman period, canvas resurfaces as a support, notably in the portrait of Baldassare Castiglione in c.1512-14, which commentators including Emile Male and Meyer zur Capellen have remarked on as being a canvas of high quality.

An analysis of the canvas support of the Malmesbury piece is not mentioned in any mode of detail, nor is there a comparison to the surfaces of other pieces executed in canvas by Raphael. Given Cameron's reliance on vega-scanning for elements of his analysis, correlation of findings with other testing methods would have been desirable.

Ground and pigment analysis?
The work of conservation departments and specialist art analysis labs have revealed much about the techniques used by Renaissance artists. Analysis of the surface, ground and pigment layers allow the identification of markers which provide evidence of preparatory techniques and materials commonly used by Raphael and his school. As noted by the late Joyce Plesters, analysis of the chemical composition of ground layers in particular can be informative:

Of the rather limited number of analyses...of gesso grounds of Italian panel paintings, gypsum has occurred more frequently as the white inert of Venetian School paintings, whereas Florentine and Sienese School paintings tend to have either pure anhydrite, or a mixture of anhydrite with gypsum. Results are insufficient to be of statistical significance as of yet, but it would clearly be of interest to have more identifications of the grounds of other paintings...
At present, this level of detail on the Malmesbury piece is not available.

Preparatory sketches and sources?
Quoting figures and motifs was common in the Renaissance. Posing of figures and symbols influenced by artists from Memling to Leonardo and Michelangelo can be easily demonstrated in Raphael's works, as well as quoting from antique structures. Cameron cites Raphael's famous Three Graces as a stylistic predecessor for the female figures in Judgement of Paris. A possible source for Raphael's models in this earlier work is an ancient statute group, which he likely encountered in Siena. Scholars believe Raphael adapted this with other known depictions, as well as adding a contemporary inflection entirely his own.

An antique source and Raphael's sublimely modelled Three Graces. c.1504-7

For the Malmesbury Judgement, in the absence of a preparatory sketch attributed to Raphael, the links presently made to any source are speculative. Finding a similar grouping of three women, posed in the same  manner would be more useful. The engraving of the same theme by Raimondi after Raphael is well known. The posing of figures in Raphael's design, whilst similar in some respects is still not sufficiently analogous to make a claim of authorship. It can, perhaps more plausibly, be argued that the artist responsible for the Malmesbury piece was aware of the Raimondi engraving of Raphael's design, or that both were quoting a common source. In the case of the engraving, two ancient Roman sarcophagi are identified as antecedents.*

The Judgement of Paris. 2nd-3rd Century CE Roman sarcophagus fragment.Villa Medici, Rome.

Modelling of figures
Perhaps Raphael's most distinctive feature is his remarkable modelling of figures. A factor enhanced by his Florentine exposure, his ability to depict the human form showed a balance of grace and anatomical plausibility. Raphael's models were often idealised, but in a sense that made them seem more real than those of Michelangelo for instance - bulky and sculptural in comparison. Often mentioned when trying to emphasise this point is Raphael's letter to Baldassare Castiglione: order to paint a beautiful woman, I would have to see several beautiful women …but because there are so few … I make use of a certain idea which comes into my mind. Whether it carries any excellence of art I do not know, but I work hard to achieve it.

Mentioned less frequently in this instance is how directly Raphael is paraphrasing Leon-Battista Alberti's De Pictura:
For this reason it is useful to take from every beautiful body each one of the praised parts and always strive by your diligence and study to understand and express much loveliness. This is very difficult, because complete beauties are never found in a single body, but are rare and dispersed in many bodies.
Alberti's treatise was the first step in elevating the Renaissance artist beyond their common perception as mere artisans. By emulating the ideal painter described by Alberti, Renaissance artists sought to distinguish themselves from their peers. It is hence not surprising to see Raphael repeat it in a letter to his Roman friend. Echoes of it are found in extant writings by other artists, including Leonardo, who wrote his own treatise on painting. Whilst an interesting documentary consideration, it bears little evidential power in considering Raphael's potential authorship of the Judgement of Paris.

Some visual nuances are keenly observed in the article at Art History Today. What is omitted however are some smaller anatomical and compositional nuances. These need to be mentioned as potentially uncharacteristic of Raphael, so consistently astute in rendering models. Looking specifically at the semi-nude on the far right, the two points worth drawing attention are the rendering of head in profile compared to the rotation of the trunk, and the left foot, whose scale seems disproportionate. The overall harmony of the grouping is pleasing enough, but arguably lacks the grace Raphael was able to accomplish at this stage of his career.

A more relevant example would be the drawing of the same theme now in the Queen's Library, a study for the Villa Farnesina frescoes. Dated c.1517-8 it is indicative of the degree of Raphael's progression in grouping three female figures. It is anatomically astute and geometrically harmonius - a clear forward progression from the earlier Three Graces panel.

Three Graces study for the Wedding Feast of Cupid and Psyche

In this instance, a detailed under-surface scan would be more useful, allowing the possible suggestion of the use of preparatory cartoon or some direct drawing on the canvas. From this point it could then be explored as to what degree of design and execution was by a consistent hand - or shows the suggestion of studio involvement. With the amount of data presently available, beyond Cameron's report of pentimenti - there is still very little else to show it is not a copy, let alone an original by any discernible artist.

Semblance of a resemblance
The crux of Cameron's analysis comes down to the alleged similarity of the male figure to Raphael, and one of the figures to his lover Margerita Luti. It is this premise that the rest of the presentation seems to be built on. The similarities are interesting, and worth exploring further - but can they be indicative of Raphael as author? 

As seen in Portrait of a Young Man at Hampton Court, Shearman's identification of the inscription of Raphael's name on the subject's buttons as being in the original paint layer did nothing to sway the attribution away from a 'follower' piece. Images representing Raphael and his lover became increasingly popular after the publication of Vasari's Lives. This was most famously seen in the pieces by Ingres in the 19th century. Closer to his own time, Raphael did have admirers in Venice - the famous description of the Vendramin inventory, which includes Giorgione's Tempest also included a portrait of Raphael (now believed lost).

Jean Auguste-Dominique Ingres. The Betrothal of Raphael and the Niece of Cardinal Bibbiena. 1813-14. Walters Art Museum, USA

The inscribed 1512 date requires further analysis. There is no shortage of misleading inscriptions added to artworks, often by later hands to improve the apparent age of works and bolster sale prices. Some room must also be left to consider the piece as a later homage to the artist, or perhaps a work executed by a northern artist that was in Raphael's circle. The literature on this element of Raphael's workshop is scarce, although other northern artists are noted as being part of Raphael's workshop in Rome at a later period, such as Ferrarese artist Battista Dossi

From a chronological perspective, a 1512 date puts it into the same time frame as the Madonna di Foligno, The Sistine Madonna and the Portrait of Bindo Altoviti (and possibly that of Castiglione). This is in addition to the decorations undertaken at the Villa Farnesina in Rome. Adding Judgement of Paris to this, executed in an entirely uncharacteristic style, without any studio input is a conclusion that is not strengthened by any of the evidence presented. 

Seeking consensus and conclusion
It is pleasing to see detailed discussion of attribution methodology in publications, and entering the public sphere via the web. Reading these reports requires a diligent examination of content to discern fact from speculation. A sound review methodology will evaluate the relevance (or validity) of the evidence presented. From information currently presented, further information will be required to more firmly establish the Malmesbury Judgement of Paris as an autograph piece by Raphael. The lack of documentary evidence and narrow scope of technical data in a non-validated modality are particular causes for concern. Additional comparative data, including  a peer-review element would be conducive to a more thorough appraisal. 

Adlington, W. [Trans.] The Golden Asse by Lucius Apuleius. 1639 edition. full text via Project Gutenberg link 

Alberti, LB. Spencer JR [Trans.] On Painting. Yale University Press. 1970

Clark, JG, Coulson, FT, McKinley, KL (eds.) Ovid in the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press. 2011 link

De L'Aubespine, M. Klosowska, A [Ed./Trans.] Madeleine De L'Aubespine - Selected Poems and Translations. Bilingual Edition. University of Chicago Press. 2007. p.79 link

Damisch. H, Goodman, J [Trans.] Judgement of Paris. University of Chicago Press

Gaisser, JH. The Fortunes of Apuleius and the Golden Ass: A Study in Transmission and Reception. Princeton University Press. 2009 link

Gombrich, EH. Aby Warburg - An Intellectual Biography. Phaidon. 1997

Hopkins, J and Richardson, H [Trans.] Complete Philosophical and Theological Treatises of Anselm of Canterbury. AJ Banning Press. 2000

Hoogsteder and Hoogsteder, Veldman IM [Trans.] The Judgment of Paris, a Newly Discovered Painting by Maarten van Heemskerck. 8 May 2010. Accessed November 24 2011. full text via Kunstpedia link

Joannides, P. Titian, Giorgione and the Mystery of Paris. Artibus et Historiae. Issue 61. 2010. pp.99-114

Lutticken, S. Keep Your Distance - Aby Warburg on Myth and Modern Art. Oxford Art Journal. (2005) 28 (1): p.45-59

Meyer zur Capellen. (Polter, S. Trans.) Raphael: The Paintings. Entries for "Three Graces" (Vol. 1), Paintings 1512-4 (Vol. 2 and 3). Arcos Verlag. 2003-2008

Ovid, Goold, GP and Showerman, G [Trans.] Heroides - Amores. Loeb Classical Library. Harvard University Press. 1914. Text for Letter XVI sourced via Theoi website. Accessed November 25 2011 link

Packwood, D. Raphael and the Judgement of Paris. Art History Today. 21 November 2011. Accessed 24 November 2011. link

Plesters, J. Technical Aspects of Some Paintings by Raphael in the National Gallery London. Princeton Raphael Symposium. Hall, M. B. & Shearman, J.(eds). Princeton University Press. 1990. p.33

Shearman, J. Raphael in Early Modern Sources. [2 vols] Yale University Press. 2003
The Judgment of Paris by Raimondi. Entry at The Metropolitan Museum of Art website. Accessed November 24 2011 link

Vasari, G. Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects. De Vere, G [Trans.] Eskserdjian, D [notes]. Knopf. 1996. Vol. 1. pp.710-748

Image notes
Malmesbury Judgement of Paris image source: via Art History Today/G Cameron

Botticelli Judgement of Paris sourced/resized via Petrus Agricola/Flickr link

Raphael Betrothal by Ingres via Walters Art Museum website link

*Villa Medici sarcophagus fragment image sourced from University of York webpage. Accessed 25 November 2011. link The other source for Raphael's design for Raimondi is cited as the sarcophagus at Villa Doria Pamphili (Codex Coburgensis) image via Hoogsteder article link cited via Gombrich text on Warburg


Edward Goldberg said...

Hasan—I enjoyed reading your methodological excursus, for its own sake, as a demonstration piece. But it was rather like attacking a mosquito with a machine gun! The attribution of the “Judgement of Paris” to Raphael has no basis that I can see—in terms of style, documentation, provenance or (heaven help us!) common sense. The picture is generally derived from Giorgione (exactly how remains to be determined). It is from Northern Italy, probably the greater Veneto (including Brescia, Verona, Bergamo…) It is rather later than Giorgione or (heaven help us!) Raphael and the reclining figure of Paris could almost be edging into the seicento. Venetian artists were combining and recombining elements of the “greatest hits” of the Golden Age until quite late. If you started in the Venetian seventeenth century and then worked backwards, I suspect that you would find yourself in the right neighborhood fairly quickly. Under the circumstances, I wonder what possessed someone to pull the “R word” (Raphael) out of their hat, rather than the “L word” (Leonardo)? Leonardo is a more popular default and the evidence is equal. (Atmosphere…Poetic Melancholy…Sfumatura…Oil Technique…) Ed G.

Alberti's Window said...

When I saw the detail of the nudes in the middle of your post, I exclaimed "Oh, wow!" in dismay when I saw the disproportionately small foot of the model on the right. You did well to point that out.

The painting looks very "Venetian" to me, based on the color scheme and landscape. It will be interesting to see if any further research or analyses are published on this painting.

In response to Edward's comment, I wonder if it's easier for connoisseurs to bring up the "R word" instead of the "L word" (simply because so few paintings by Leonardo exist, especially in comparison with Raphael)?

Paul Doughton said...

the shepherd, some landscape, and distant architecture are reminiscent of a giorgionesque style,but the three women look as though that side of the canvas was gifted to a student. the disproportion of foot and turn of the head is poor as you say, but so is the left leg of the central muse. that leg is, to the knee, moving forward. from below the knee the dynamic is terrible, (refer to the enlarged detail image)the volume of the muscle and the excrutiating turn of the foot would have a footballer declared out for the rest of the season. ouch! raphael was not a third rate painter...

H Niyazi said...

Cheers for the comments!

@Ed - I like the analogy! As you note, this response is written for its own purposes. I have often cited critics of attributions being vague in their responses (eg. La Bella Principessa) - I am hardly about to do the same! I now have a reference library and semblance of knowledge on Raphael to make this evaluation possible. Anyone can look at the piece and say it "doesnt look right" - I would prefer anyone be able to do the above appriasal themselves, which is enabled by the 'SDCC' headings I described earlier.

From feedback received, and responses to the Leonardo exhibition, the public *is* interested in standards of evidence, and the sectors responsible for attributions are going to need to be more methodical and transparent with their mode of reporting.

I want to arm the interested public with information to be able to pick apart a *report* of any attribution. With Raphael specifically, any claims that are floated with his name will be given the same treatment. Why? I am simply interested in clearer rporting standards for this type of information.

@M - I think the generic resemblances are what has swayed GCs reading of Raphael. I really am baffled by the confidence of the proclamation in the absence of any valid evidence. I think David Packwood could have been a bit more *critical* in his analysis at Art History Today - but it was still great to have his presentation to start with. His interesting observation on the prevalence of "Judgement of Paris" in Venice in the early 16C sparked my curiousity to trace this theme in a bit more detail.

From a modelling perspective, I am also editing the post to include a later three graces drawing by Raphael (from the Royal collection)- so anatomically astute and harmonius... to see the grouping of the three in this painting, it is hard to argue it was a step forward!

Kind Regards

Benjamin (Ben) said...

"For this reason it is useful to take from every beautiful body each one of the praised parts and always strive by your diligence and study to understand and express much loveliness. This is very difficult, because complete beauties are never found in a single body, but are rare and dispersed in many bodies."
Just an aside: I think the origin of the above idea, as you may know, is the story of Zeuxis painting Helen, as told by Cicero and Pliny, and then adapted by Alberti, Leonardo, etc. There's an intriguing looking book on this subject. See


H Niyazi said...

Great observation Ben. Indeed, Alberti can't seem to go a paragraph in De Pictura without name dropping an ancient painter sourced from Cicero or Pliny. Apelles probably gets the most acclaim, which is why you read accounts of Renaissance artists being described as the "new Apelles" Raphael of course painted *himself* as this figure in the 'School of Athens'. Graceful and kind he seems to have been, though probably not modest!

As for the book you refer to, I have it! It's wonderful - I call it the "Proto-Pictura".

Kind Regards

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