According to a Greek myth, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite contend for the status of the fairest among them, and it is Paris, the prince of Troy who has grown up as a shepherd, who is chosen to act as judge. He decides in favour of Aphrodite, who has promised him the most beautiful mortal woman - Helen, the wife of the Spartan king Menelaus - in return. With Aphrodite's help, Paris succeeds in abducting Helen, and thus triggers the events leading to the Trojan War.
In a woodcut of the theme dating from 1508, Cranach created the basic composition that served as the model for all succeeding painted replicas produced in his workshop; only minor changes were made to the original in each case. That is also true of the version on view here, which is unusual in that the female protagonists pose at the left, leaving the right half of the scene for Paris. As in all other Cranach versions, Paris is depicted as a sleeping knight who experiences the contest of the beauties - accompanied by Hermes, the messenger of the gods - in a dream. Naked except for their jewellery and transparent veils, the goddesses can be distinguished by neither their actions nor their attributes. Cupid, usually present in the scene, is absent here. According to the Christian humanist interpretation, the three goddesses embody three different ways of life - geared towards wisdom, power and lust - between which man must choose.
[Elsbeth Wiemann, http://onlinekatalog.staatsgalerie.de/detail.jsp?id=C6140AB04F6F5746406DFA6B1EE634D&img=1; 22-07-2015]