Description This is the first of a series of three large paintings, originally for a palatial home, probably (to judge from the style) from somewhere in the Veneto or Marches regions of Italy. Together they depict a key episode in the ancient Greek romance of Paris and Helen. According to the ancient poets, Venus, goddess of love, promised Paris, prince of Troy, that he would marry the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, queen of the Greek city-state Sparta. Paris went to Sparta and was kindly received by Helen's husband, King Menelaus. While Menelaus was on a trip, Helen and a party of courtiers, including Paris, made an excursion to the island of Cythera, dedicated to Venus. In this painting, the courtiers (in elegant Renaissance court fashions, marked by brocades, pearls, and fine handkerchiefs) have strolled out of the city toward the ship that will take them on this pleasure outing. The young people are led on by a gaily dressed court jester, shaking a tambourine. Jesters played many roles, including the role here of court fool (see his hood with donkey ears). With a fool as the leader of the revels, they are likely to leave courtly decorum behind! Indeed, on Cythera, Paris talked Helen into eloping (second painting, 37.1179). They sailed to Troy, where Paris's father, King Priam, received them as a couple (third painting, 37.1180). The events led to the Trojan War: the Greeks attacked and destroyed Troy to get Helen back. In the 1400s, large paintings on mythological subjects featuring beautiful women were favored for decorating the homes of wealthy Italians. They were often installed into the paneling or plastered surface of the wall with the bottom edge at about shoulder height. The scenes looked like views through a palace window or through the columns of a pavilion, magically creating the illusion of ancient stories coming alive before one's eyes. By the mid 1500s, tastes changed, and framed paintings that could be easily moved became more fashionable.
Provenance Cav. Marcello Galli-Dunn, Castello di Badia, Poggibonsi, Tuscany [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; Sale, Galleria Sangiorgi, Rome, May 2, 1905, no. 142; Henry Walters, Baltimore, prior to 1915 [mode of acquisition unknown]; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.
Inscriptions [Transcription] On flag, in reverse: C
Credit Acquired by Henry Walters, before 1915
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