The Judgement of Paris is a popular topic for artists in classical and renaissance period. The story itself is part of the background of The Iliad and connected to the story of the original Apple of Discord. In order to not make the decision himself, Zeus gave the decision of whom to give the Apple of Discord to Paris. He had to choose out of Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.
This common scene is of the three goddesses, led to Paris by Hermes, trying to bribe Paris as he makes his decision. The artist normally gives each of the characters some signifying objects. Paris was a shepherd at the time, so he will have a shepherd's crook. In later artwork, he often wears a Phrygian cap due to being from there. Hermes, the messenger god, will have his caduceus and winged sandals. Hera was symbolised by the peacock and Athena was distinguished by her armour, including a shield bearing the head of Medusa.
Aphrodite was the eventual winner and goddess of beauty, love and lust. She won by bribing Paris with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen (she was married to someone else, but surely that's not going to cause any long-term problems). Correspondingly, she is often shown being the happier of three (the other two will be looking away or standing apart) and she will be attended by her son Eros/Cupid. The apple may be in hers, Hermes or Paris's hand.
The appeal of this subject matter to the artists is simple: Tits. You were allowed to depict ancient Greek deities as nude, especially when they are trying to hit on a simple shepherd to win a prize. In a way, it's the "pizza delivery boy needs a tip" of high art. Ancient works would save bare breasts for just Aphrodite since the point was that she wasn't necessarily most beautiful, but the sluttiest—and they were all trying to bribe him, not give him a flash.
- Peter Paul Rubens was very fond of this one. He painted it in 1625, 1636 and 1639. In the earliest, Aphrodite gets a choir of angel like beings to adorn her as the winner. In all three at least one of the losers is turned away from the viewer which helps to show the dejection.
- Joachim Wtewael phrased this with Paris sitting in the lap of luxury, giving Aphrodite her gift while a group of putto crown her, similar to Rubens' works. Hera is actually positioned with her hand raised out, head turning back to the viewer with an incredulous expression on her face. This scene seems to take place at the actual party into which the apple of discord was thrown with several naked people around a table in a background and a satyr carries a barrel of wine.
- Jan Both and Cornelis van Poelenburgh collaborated on one. Van Poelenburgh did the figures while Both did the landscape. This may have influenced the decision to set the scene further from the viewer, giving Both's landscape more prominence. Thus, the figures are less detailed and have little to signify them as deities or specific individuals, though there is still one goddess turned away and a child clinging at Aphrodite's leg. Hermes is not apparent, though a crowned older bearded figure (presumably Zeus) is in the picture. Hera is also depicted as a more mature woman.
- Averted in Age of Bronze: In keeping with the de-mythificated nature of the work, the judgement is a dream Paris claims he had which he uses to justify his kidnapping Helen, and even then he only narrates it.
- One of the best-known songs in the operetta La Belle Helene is Paris recounting the episode to the prophet Calchas. In this version the goddesses don't actively bribe him, instead putting forth her chastity (Minerva), her birth and pride (Juno), while Venus didn't say a thing... but got the apple anyway.
- In one episode of Poirot, the Judgement of Paris was the key to unveiling the murderer. When a young playwright mentioned the subject, the widow of the murdered man mistakenly thought he was talking about the fashion judgement of the city. This struck him as odd, since at a previous meeting he had discussed Trojan myth with her at length (it turned out she had a body double).