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Work Mosaic of the Judgment of Paris

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Roman Art

Mosaic of the Judgment of Paris

© 2006 Musée du Louvre et AFA / Daniel Lebée et Carine Deambrosis

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Author(s):
Marie-Bénédicte Astier

In the second century AD, this mosaic adorned a dining room in the house of a wealthy Roman in Antioch. Grape and ivy leaves filled with birds frame the legendary story of the judgment of Paris. Hermes asked the young prince to judge a beauty contest between Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite, of which Aphrodite was the winner. Using a rich palette of colors and small tesserae, the artist sought to rival the Hellenistic Greek painting that he used as a model.

A dining-room floor

This mosaic was discovered in 1932 in Antioch in the Atrium House. Antioch, today known as Antakya and located in Turkey, was the former capital of the kingdom of Syria. The site has delivered up a remarkable collection of wealthy Roman villas decorated with mosaics. This panel was placed in the floor of a dining room, which was redone shortly after 115 AD, following a devastating earthquake that ravaged Antioch. The triclinium was a reception room in which guests dined while reclining on a U-shaped arrangement of couches. The organization of the decoration matched the arrangement of the room and the placement of the guests - several floor panels with figures decorated the threshold and center of the room, while the areas where the couches were placed featured plainer geometric patterns. The other panels, divided between other museums, depict a satyr, a Maenad, a drinking contest between Dionysus and Hercules, and Aphrodite next to Adonis.

The judgment of Paris

The Louvre's mosaic was placed in the center of the floor. The surrounding motif was inspired by a second century BC mosaic created for the palace of King Attalus at Pergamum, Asia Minor. Featuring two heads on each side, grape and vine leaves populated with birds and insects serve as a frame for the legendary story of the judgment of Paris, the son of Priam, king of Troy. Hermes, the messenger of the gods, asks the young prince, who was tending his flocks on the steep slopes of Mount Ida, for help in selecting which of three goddesses is the most beautiful. Athena, goddess of wisdom, equipped with aegis, helmet and spear; Hera, majestically seated in the center; or Aphrodite, who - sure of her success - sits casually on a rock. The scene takes place under the gaze of Eros and Psyche. Paris finally chooses Aphrodite for her dazzling beauty, and rewards her with the golden apple.

A work in stone inspired by Hellenistic painting

Using a rich palette of colors and small tesserae, the artist sought to rival a Hellenistic Greek painting that he used as a model. Indeed, the composition of this panel was inspired by a Greek painting known from a copy preserved at Pompeii. The so-called opus vermiculatum technique, which used miniscule cubes of stone and glass paste, allowed mosaic artists to create pictorial effects such as color shading and plays of light and shadow. Mosiacists working in the Hellenized East, steeped in the traditions of Greek art, continued to compose veritable pictures in stone, in imitation of paintings. The judgment of Paris was a particularly popular theme in the repertory of antiquity, and yet it is rarely depicted in mosaics. We know of only two other examples, at Cherchel in Algeria and in Romania.

Bibliography

Antioch, The Lost Ancient City, exposition du Worcester Art Museum (Massachusetts), Princeton, 2000, p. 62, pp. 172-174, n 58
K. M. D. Dunbabin, Mosaics of the Greek and Roman World, Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 160-166
M. Potvin, Fr. Baratte, L'image fragmentée : la mosaïque depuis l'Antiquité romaine, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1994, p. 16, n 2
Fr. Baratte, Catalogue des mosaïques romaines et paléochrétiennes du musée du Louvre, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2000, p.87-92, n 43, fig. 83-85
D. Levi, Antioch Mosaic Pavements, Londres, Princeton Univercity Press, 1947, pp. 16-21
C. R. Morey, The Mosaics of Antioch, Londres, Stephen Peterson Books, 1938, p. 28-29
J. Lassus, Fouilles à Antioche, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, VIe série, IX, 1933, pp. 268-271

Technical description

  • Mosaic of the Judgment of Paris

    Between 115 and 150 AD

    Discovered in the Atrium House at Antioch on the Orontes (modern-day Turkey) in 1932

  • Opus tessellatum and opus vermiculatum; marble, limestone, glass paste

    L. 1.86 m; W. 1.86 m

  • French national museums excavations; given to the Louvre in 1936

    N° d'entrée MND 1945 (n° usuel Ma 3443)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Roman art
    Room 25

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