Rubens’ painting of the Judgement of Solomon

In this painting by Rubens that we saw in the National Gallery in Copenhagen a disturbingly young and female looking King Solomon is making the judgement that made him famous.


The two prostitutes in the glorious dresses each had a child, but one of the children has died. You can see the dead child on the floor. Both prostitutes claim to be the mother of the living child. Solomon must decide which is the true mother.

He ponders the problem and then arrives at a solution: the child will be cut in half and each mother shall have half. His hypothesis is that the real mother won’t permit this, and true enough the real mother stops the halving. In the gallery in Denmark the words left you thinking that the true mother thus lost the child, which seemed very unfair.

Ruben’s method was to sketch a design, leave his pupils to execute most of the painting, and then finish the parts that mattered most. My guess here is that he certainly painted the wriggling child and probably the dresses (certainly the yellow one) which take up so much of the picture. Perhaps too he painted the face of the woman on the right, but surely he didn’t paint Solomon.


Wikipedia tells me that historians have identified 22 other stories that are the same, mostly from India and the Far East.


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