The Judgement of Solomon
Master of the Judgement of Solomon or Jusepe de Ribera (1591, Xàtiva-1652, Naples )
Oil on canvas
h: 153.5 cm; w: 201.5 cm
Followers of Caravaggio
Borghese Collection (first appears as part of the Borghese Collection in the 1693 inventory)
Master of the Judgement of Solomon: active in Rome from 1615 to 1620
The Biblical episode tells the story of two prostitutes who give birth in the same house, but one of the newborns dies. Both claim to be the mother of the surviving baby and call on King Solomon to adjudicate. When he decides to split the newborn child in two with his sword, in tears the real mother renounces the child in order to save it, an astute strategy used by the wise king to identify her. This shows the capacity the Lord gave Solomon to distinguish Good from Evil, not as a gift, but as a readiness to listen through which the wisdom of God can be found. It is also a celebration of the wisdom of those who reign in the name of God.
Over the centuries in the absence of any documents to verify the actual artist, the work has been variously attributed. One of the most notable theories is that an unknown follower of Caravaggio known as the Master of the Judgement of Solomon, on account of his strong personality (Longhi, 1943) painted it.
The strong affinities to a non-Italian follower of Caravaggio have led some to attribute the painting to the Roman period of the young Jusepe de Ribera, when he had not fully assimilated the naturalism of his master although this is present in his later paintings (Papi, 2005).
The essence of the painting is its compositional structure. The source of light outside the painting makes the scene a truly theatrical event. The rhythm is marked by the gestures of the figures in the scene arranged in a rigidly orthogonal progression.
The king sits on a chair that rests on a step decorated with an ancient bas‑relief, in front of a column acting as a perspective wing.
The exasperation of the drama is not only evoked by the light and style, but by the atmosphere, a real stage on which the main player, Solomon, stands; the dark tones adding to the dramatic effect. These elements are consistent, notwithstanding the peculiarities of each artist, in what is known as the baroque language.
The biblical subject matter of this work is expressed through the dramatic use of gesture and light. Believed to be by an unknown follower of Caravaggio called the Master of the Judgement of Solomon, it is in a style similar to van Baburen and Neapolitan artists. Some scholars have identified the painter as the young Jusepe de Ribera.
Borghese Collection (the painting’s presence in the Borghese Collection dates back to the inventory of 1693).
Longhi, R., Proporzioni, Florence, 1943, I, p. 58.
Della Pergola, P., Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Rome, 1959, pp. 85–86.
Stefani, C., Galleria Borghese, Milan, 2000, p. 192.
Papi, G., Giudizio di Salomone, scheda III.11, in Caravaggio e l'Europa, exhibition catalogue, Milan, 2005, p. 270.
Copyright image: Archivio fotografico Soprintendenza Speciale PSAE e Polo Museale della Città di Roma.
Sofia Barchiesi, Maria Assunta Sorrentino "The Judgement of Solomon" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://www.discoverbaroqueart.org/database_item.php?id=object;BAR;it;Mus11;15;en
Prepared by: Sofia BarchiesiSofia Barchiesi
TITLE: Author and Researcher
Sofia Barchiesi, a graduate and specialist in Art History and recipient of a scholarship from the School of Mediaeval and Modern Art History at Lumsa University, has been working with the Superintendency for Historical Artistic Heritage and the Museums of Rome since the late 1980s. She was responsible for cataloguing the art of the region and museums of Rome, studying the period of the Counter-Reformation particularly closely. She works with journals and writes essays, alternating her research and teaching work., Maria Assunta SorrentinoMaria Assunta Sorrentino
NAME: Maria Assunta
AFFILIATION: Borghese Gallery, Rome
TITLE: Conservation Department Co-ordinator
Maria Assunta Sorrentino, holder a of a Diploma in Painting and Fresco Restoration and a degree in the Science of Cultural Heritage (historical-artistic), has worked at the Borghese Gallery since 1993, where she manages the Conservation Department and is in charge of the technical and organisational co-ordination of temporary exhibitions. She is currently working on the Ten Great Exhibitions project underway at the Borghese Gallery. She has published several papers on conservation and history in relation to the exhibition, with particular reference to artists such as Bernini, Domenichino, Canova and Caravaggio.
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: IT1 19