The painting depicts Solomon, King of the Jews, seated on the throne, with a child placed on the ground in front of him. Two women and court dignitaries occupy the courtyard in front of the throne. Two large oaks, dividing the landscape into two parts, dominate the background. The buildings in the background, with the hills far away, impose a sense of realism. A Ferrarese assistant collaborated with Giorgione in the execution of the figures.
The painting illustrates the popular Biblical story of Solomon. Two women claim the same child, and the matter ends up before the king, to adjudicate. Solomon orders cutting the child into two halves and split between the women. The ruling unmasked the women falsely claiming to be the mother. The real mother, not wanting to harm the child, agrees to leave the child with the other women. The other woman agrees to cut the child. Many consider this story as an illustration of Solomon’s wisdom.
The Judgment of Solomon is only one of the six surviving paintings attributed to Giorgione. It represents the Venetian school, and noteworthy for its rich depth, striking imagery, and skillful use of colours. It has an elusive poetic quality, and resonates the mood of the setting well. The painting conforms to Giorgione’s atypical inclusion of landscape in his works.
Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco (1477/78–1510) was a doyen of the Italian renaissance. He left a distinctive mark in his short life spanning only around 30 years. He started his career as an apprentice under Giovanni Bellini, and rose to prominence as a master in a very short time. Along with Titan, his friend and co-apprentice under Giovanni, he established the Venetian school of painting. The school gives primacy to colour over the line, as a reaction against the linear design style of the Florentine school.
Giorgione painted The Judgment of Solomon during 1500-1501 CE, when he was at the peak of his powers. It is an oil-on-canvas painting, measuring 25” (89 cm) by 28” (72cm). It is similar in dimensions and theme to the Test of Fire of Moses, which is its pendant painting. Both these paintings adorn the walls of the Galleria Degli Uffizi of Florence.