AP History Notes

The world's best AP history notes

Learn more on this topic from our recommended AP history review books.

The Malmesbury Judgement of Paris: The Last Word?

1. Raphael's 1512 'The Judgement of Paris'
Att. to Raphael, previously att to Giorgione, The Judgement of Paris, Private Coll., 1512.

There’s no doubt that the Malmesbury Judgement of Paris is a controversial painting. The series of posts started last year have examined every aspect of it. AHT has  attempted to reconstruct its stylistic milieu, identify the context in which the picture  was received, and tried to unravel its technique, style and iconography.

The dispute revolves around whether this disregarded picture was painted by Raphael. But even if we discount that attribution, I think we have to face the fact that the composition, models and sources are connected with Raphael’s workshop. I won’t repeat all that has been written in the lost four posts- but perhaps we can identify some key questions raised by this saga of attribution and quality.

1. If this wasn’t painted by Raphael, then why are there physiognomic, stylistic and iconographic links between the Malmesbury painting and designs produced by his own hand, e.g. the Adam and Eve?

2. Can we accept that Raphael- with all his exposure to Venetian painting- may not have sought to fashion a personal, erotic subject based upon some of Giorgione’s pastoral mythologies?

3. Leaving aside the issue of its authorship, and despite the contempt shown for the quality of this picture by some, why was it endorsed by connoisseurs of the first rank like Waagen and Eastlake?

4. How do we explain the facial resemblance between the left goddess in the Judgement of Paris and portraits of Fornarina; the same goes for portraits of Raphael and the “Paris” figure?

I won’t seek to answer these questions- but I did ask Graeme Cameron if he had anything further to add about the VegaScan, especially concerns about “vested interests.” He referred those concerned  back to the technical blog’s images, “where the capabilities of the VegaScan process, in regard to the effectiveness of its image penetration, compared with Infra-reds, provides the most self evident demonstration".

In response to concerns expressed about the VegScan technology, GC said:

"How it (VegaScan) achieves this is presently subject to confidentiality provisions, whilst the necessary proprietary measures are being determined". This is the situation at the present- that’s all I can report.

Another reason for this extra post is to include material that got left out of the previous blogs. I’m quoting GC verbatim here: 

1. “To assist with the scientific verification of both the date and style of the dress depicted within the "JoP", as worn by Raphael, it can be actually scientifically proven as certainly deriving from the years 1500 to 1520 in the High Renaissance. Most fortunately,my research is also dealing with yet another significant work from this period on an oak panel, which concerns "Three Saints", which has been accurately dated by leading Dendrochronologist, Prof. Dr. Peter Klein, to the 1500 to 1510-20 period.

1. Definitive scientific confirmation of the 1500-1520 Renaissance Dress style as evidenced in Raphael's 1512 'Jop'
Unidentified early 16th century Italian painter, St James from “Three Saints”, oil on oak, dimensions not known.

The Saint depicted here, "St. James" ( with the Scallop Shell), wears the same White Hose and Slashed Doublet/Tunic style, and even more so, the same soft style Suede Boots/Shoes, as does Raphael in the "JoP". In this composition, St.James like Raphael, has likewise been updated to the contemporary early 1500′s Renaiisance dress, for this purpose, rather than retaining his actual Biblical Garb. It is worth noting this important fact for definitive dress dating purposes of the "JoP."

2. I also didn’t get a chance to show  images with the Raphael monogramme “"Rv", so here they are.

2. Comparison
I don’t know if the “"Rv", monogramme is visible in this image actually. It’s actually on the neck and crotch of the central goddess.

3. GC with more points on physiognomy. “It’s perhaps worth adding to the remarks on physiognomy, that proof of the difficulty of rendering on a small scale an accurate likeness of young "Fornarina" was a very skilled task for Raphael, as some of the poorly rendered faces of some of the versions in these images attest. In the case of the versions, it is clear the Malmesbury prototype alone has these pivotal physiognomies of Fornarina and Raphael, whilst they all vary in both the quality and "type" of their respective renditions, but obviously have all derived from it, either as a versions or variants.

This image shows Raphael’s unique "Contrapposto" pose shared between all three compositions, from the earlier 1508 Venus, to the 1512 JoP. These anatomical pose Hallmarks are quite distinctive to his oeuvre.


1. Comparison 2. Comparison
4. Stylistic Comparison with later Farnesia standing figures  

Finally, Graeme tells me that in Volume 2 of his series, “that not only will an important new direct link back to Raphael and his "Judgement of Paris composition be revealed, confirming it has everything to do with Raphael and Rome, with only its palette and Piombo/Macantonio’s ( Giorgione) "influence" representing its earlier explained Venetian elements, but not its actual origin.”

Final Thoughts.

Looking back on these posts I have to confess some disappointment that there wasn’t more engagement with some of the arguments. There was an initial substantive response, but it slackened off after the first post.

As for the attribution, I fully understand that people are protective of Raphael, but I’m a huge fan of the painter too- and I would never do anything to harm his reputation.  I appreciate that it’s important to give a balanced, objective view of a painters development, weeding out the copies and variants from the true originals, which I’ve started with the Poussin project. In my own speciality as Poussin scholar I’m learning all the time, especially about the question of Poussin copies, which is clearly a concern over at the PCP. We don’t yet have the “full picture” of Raphael too, which is a point that  I’ve stressed again and again throughout the series of posts.

Perhaps the Malmesbury case illustrates the adversarial nature of attribution culture, which even I’ve been guilty of from time to time. I’m by no means a Raphael expert, but I’ve used my knowledge and judgement to try to negotiate between those who agree with the attribution and those who resist it. Everybody is entitled to their view, but I have to say that I think this case should be less a judgement on Graeme Cameron’s connoisseurship and the technology he deploys, and more about the issues it raises for studying Raphael in the 21st century. 

Stressing the positive, which I’d rather do, it’s interesting that the appearance of the Malmesbury picture has set some scholars on new paths of investigation. Though wisely keeping out of the attribution debates, Frank DeStefano has incorporated the Malmesbury painting into his thinking on Giorgione. I think that is the spirit in which to approach the problems surrounding this controversial canvas.

Many thanks for reading the posts and commenting on them.

Thanks of course to Graeme, and Norm Cameron for plentiful material and images.

Doubtless, there’ll be more to say when GC publishes his next book.


Share AP History Notes:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • MySpace

Learn more on this topic from our recommended AP history review books.

Comments are closed.