The subject of this painting is taken from Greek mythology and depicts Paris, the young Trojan prince, portrayed here in the company of three goddesses – Hera, recognisable thanks to the peacock, her typical iconographic attribute; Athena, portrayed with the helmet; and Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love with two doves lying at her feet. The hero had to choose the most beautiful goddess and deliver the golden apple to her, picked in the garden of the Hesperides. The work captures the moment in which the young shepherd, enchanted by the promises of Venus, is handing her the coveted prize, in return for which he will have the love of the most beautiful woman in the world.
19th-century frame decorated with palmettes
Rome, Borghese Collection, c.1633 (Inv. c.1633, p. 19, no. 205 in Corradini 1998); Inv. 1790, room VI, no. 28; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 24; purchased by Italian state, 1902.
This work is mentioned for the first time in the Borghese Collection in an inventory dating to roughly 1633 (Corradini 1998; Pierguidi 2014), in which it is described as ‘a painting of the Judgment of Paris with a black frame, 5 high by 3 2/3 wide. Francesco Crescentio’. The attribution of the work to Francesco Crescenzi resolved – perhaps definitively – the question of the origin of the painting (Herrmann Fiore 2006), which had been variously ascribed to Domenichino (Inv. 1790), to Cavalier d'Arpino (Piancastelli 1891; A. Venturi 1893; Quadrini 1940), to a Mannerist artist active around the first years of the 17th century, close to Paolo Guidotti (Longhi 1928), and to Bartholomaeus Spranger (Della Pergola 1959). According to the compiler of the inventory, the work was by Francesco Crescenzi, a Roman nobleman who together with his brothers was trained in painting by Cristoforo Roncalli (see Spezzaferro 1984). In the opinion of Marco Pupillo (2009), Crescenzi painted this work during the early phase of his career and gave it personally to Scipione Borghese in the years when the two attended the studium in Perugia together.
The Judgment of Paris is indeed the subject of this painting, which in 1700 Domenico Montelatici duly described in these words: ‘Next, after the window, is a nice, well-executed work on a wooden panel by an unknown artist which represents the Judgment of Paris. It shows a seated Paris in shepherd’s clothing next to a dog, while three goddesses – Juno, Minerva and Venus – stand in front of him. Next to the first goddess is a peacock; she is raising a garment over her head to cover herself. The second, wearing a helmet on her head, turns to the young man with a supplicating gesture, entreating him to give her the golden apple, which Paris in fact gives to the third goddess, whom he deems worthier than the others. Venus, with two doves at her feet, receives the apple, while in front of her Cupid raises his arms, eager to have the prize himself.’
A version of this work on canvas was mentioned by Paola della Pergola in 1959 as forming part of a private collection in Rome. In the view of this scholar, this other work was more refined, though she didn’t believe it to be the prototype of the panel in the Borghese Collection, which she in fact described as ‘a prior work, one of great interest for a variety of reasons’.