The Judgement of Paris

Sir James Thornhill (1675 - 1734)

Oil on canvas

c.1704-1705
  • About the work
    Location
    Country: UK
    City: London
    Place: Government Hospitality, Lancaster House
    Sir James Thornhill’s painting The Judgement of Paris presents a scene from Greek mythology. Depicted as a shepherd, and draped in red, the figure of Paris hands a golden apple to the goddess Aphrodite, who is partially draped in blue and white, her son Cupid at her feet. The scene marks a specific moment of the famous myth in which Aphrodite and the goddesses Hera and Athena (both shown nearby in Thornhill’s painting), asked Zeus, king of the gods, to judge who was the fairest. Unable to decide, Zeus handed the task to Paris, son of Priam, last king of Troy. The goddesses tempt him with offers, but it is Aphrodite who wins the apple, promising Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world, to Paris. His pursuit and abduction of Helen from her husband Menelaus, king of Sparta, catalysed the events of the Trojan War.

    Thornhill’s painting is one of three Greek mythical scenes (the others being Diana and Actaeon and The Rape of Proserpine both c.1705) which may have been studies for wall paintings. Thomas Foley, MP for Hereford and Stafford, commissioned paintings for Stoke Edith, his home in Hereford which was later demolished in 1927. In the final scheme, The Judgement of Paris was not included.
  • About the artist
    James Thornhill, born in Dorset, was apprenticed to Thomas Highmore (1689-97) but also studied and probably assisted Antonio Verrio and Louis Laguerre. He became a Freeman of the Painter-Stainers’ Company in 1704 and began painting scenery in 1705. His surviving decorative schemes include those at Greenwich Hospital (1708-27), Blenheim Palace (1716), Charborough Park (1718) and St. Paul’s Cathedral (1716-19). Queen Anne also employed him to paint an apartment at Hampton Court. He visited the Netherlands and Paris in 1711 and in the same year became a director of Sir Godfrey Kneller’s Academy, taking it over in 1716. In 1720, he became Serjeant Painter and was knighted. He became MP for Weymouth in 1722 and ran an Academy from his home.
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  • Details
    Title
    The Judgement of Paris
    Date
    c.1704-1705
    Medium
    Oil on canvas
    Dimensions
    height: 122.30 cm, width: 119.50 cm
    Acquisition
    Purchased from Agnew's, November 1964
    Provenance
    Commissioned by Thomas Foley MP of Stoke Edith, Herefordshire; with Agnew's Gallery, London; from whom purchased by the Ministry of Works in November 1964
    GAC number
    6753