PICTURES OF THE BIBLE  © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008






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The Judgment of Solomon; RAPHAEL; 1518; fresco; Raphael’s Loggia; Vatican

Web Gallery of Art


Solomon’s Judgment




Solomon delivers a judgment; two women are complaining in front of him with a dead child between them.

Each of them claims she is not the mother of this dead child but the mother of the one who is still alive. The latter is held by a soldier and the king orders it to be shared in two so that each mother should have one half of him.

The king is sitting on a throne often placed in the centre. He orders by a gesture; on the side some courtiers observe.

The soldiers hold the living child and prepare themselves to cut him in two.

The two women generally assume opposed expressions: one is satisfied and encourages the soldier; the other is upset and implores the king to stop while recognising that the other woman is the true mother. This is a lie to prevent the death of the child.

The representation takes for model a tribunal of the antiquity or of the medieval period though it is rather rare in the Middle-Ages.


It should not be confused with

The Massacre of the Innocents; Jean LE TAVERNIER; grisaille on parchment from the Hours of Philip of Burgundy; Manuscript KB 76 F 2; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague

 Musée Meermanno La Haye


This judgment can be mistaken for the massacre of the Innocents related in chapter 2 of the Gospel of Matthew.

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16)

The scene shows some soldiers cutting the throats of children and mothers mad with terror; the king witnesses the scene. The children are often numerous and actually killed.





The Judgment of Solomon; RAPHAEL; 1518; fresco; Raphael’s Loggia; Vatican

Web Gallery of Art


Solomon’s Judgment

The First Book of Kings, chapter 3

King Solomon, David’s son, reigned in Jerusalem around 950 BC. Like a good king, he delivered judgments with wisdom.

Two prostitutes apply to him; they have each a child the same age but one is dead, choked during his sleep. Each of them claims she is the mother of the living child. Solomon then asks:

Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.

Then spoke the woman whose child was living to the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no way slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor yours, but divide it.

Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no way slay it: she is his mother. (1 Kings 3:24-27)





Solomon’s Judgment



The Judgment of Solomon; RAPHAEL; 1518; fresco; Raphael’s Loggia; Vatican

Web Gallery of Art


Solomon at the centre of the composition judges like God on the day of the Last Judgment but the bad woman is not always on his left.



The Judgment of Solomon; Valentin de BOULOGNE; 1625; oil on canvas; Musée du Louvre, Paris

Web Gallery of Art



The Judgment of Solomon; Nicolas POUSSIN; 1649; oil on canvas; Musée du Louvre, Paris

Web Gallery of Art


The good mother becomes the centre of the composition. It is she who urges the king to speak.



The Judgment of King Solomon; Nicolay GAY; 1854; oil on canvas; The Museum of Russian Art, Kiev, Ukraine

Olga's Gallery - Online Art Museum



The Judgment of Solomon; RAPHAEL; 1509-11; fresco; Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican

Web Gallery of Art


This time, the central character is the soldier who is about to strike the child. The good mother stops his gesture; the king observes.


After The judgment of Solomon; Andrea MANTEGNA; 1490-1500; tempera on canvas; Musée du Louvre, Paris

 Photos RMN



The Judgment of Solomon; Nanni di BARTOLO; 1424-38; stone; Palazzo Ducale, Venice

Web Gallery of Art


Two medieval representations with the same king, the same soldier but with a great difference in the women’s attitudes.


After The Judgment of SOLOMON; 1465; miniature on parchment; “Bible moralisée” from Flanders; manuscript KB 76 E 7 63r; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague

 Museum Meermanno



The Judgment of Solomon; 1372; miniature from the “Bible Historiale” by Petrus Comestor; manuscript MMW 10 B 23; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the Hague

 Museum  Meermanno





Solomon’s wisdom is proverbial

Political wisdom since he possesses intelligence and discernment of good and evil to govern the people. But Solomon’s wisdom extends to many other domains since he spoke three thousand proverbs…

And he spoke also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. (The First Book of Kings 4:32-33)

It was thought he had written several books of the Bible, among them the Book of Wisdom and the Book of Proverbs.

But according to these texts, his love for women led him astray from God. A man famous for his wisdom lets himself be seduced to distraction…



Good Justice

To deliver a good judgmentTo judge according to wisdom and not according to a simple code. This power and this quality have been claimed by European sovereigns. In this picture from a school book of the 19th century representing King St Louis, Solomon’s heritage can be recognised.



In the same way,


 "the apotheosis of James I", painted by Rubens on the ceiling of the Banqueting Hall of Whitehall in London, celebrates the King of England as a New Solomon. 


"Solomon and the Queen of Sheba" (c. 1534), a watercolour by Hans Holbein, probably presented to Henry V III, is actually a portait of the king himself.






BIBLE PICTURES   © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008