A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

(Ἀπελλῆς), the most celebrated of Grecian painters, was born, most probably, at Colophon in Ionia (Suidas, s. v.), though Pliny (35.36.10) and Ovid (Art. Am. 3.401 ; Pont. 4.1. 29) call him a Coan. The account of Strabo (xiv. p.642) and Lucian (De Calumn. 59. §§ 2, 6), that he was an Ephesian, may be explained from the statements of Suidas, that he was made a citizen at Ephesus, and that he studied painting there under Ephorus. He afterwards studied under Pamphilus of Amphipolis, to whom he paid the fee of a talent for a ten-years' course of instruction. (Suidas, s.v. Plin. Nat. 35.36.8.) At a later period, when he had already gained a high reputation, he went to Sicyon, and again paid a talent for admission into the school of Melanthius, whom he assisted in his portrait of the tyrant Aristratus. (Plut. Arat. 13.) By this course of study he acquired the scientific accuracy of the Sicyonian school, as well as the elegance of the Ionic.

The best part of the life of Apelles was probably spent at the court of Philip and Alexander the Great; for Pliny speaks of the great number of his portraits of both those princes (35.36.16), and states that he was the only person whom Alexander would permit to take his portrait. (7.38; see also Cic. Fam. 5.12.13; Hor. Ep. 2.1. 239; Valer. Max. 8.11.2, ext. ; Arrian, Arr. Anab. 1.16.7.) Apelles enjoyed the friendship of Alexander, who used to visit him in his studio. In one of these visits, when the king's conversation was exposing his ignorance of art, Apelles politely advised him to be silent, as the boys who were grinding the colours were laughing at him. (Plin. Nat. 35.36.12.) Plutarch relates this speech as having been made to Megabyzus. (De Tranq. Anim. 12, p. 471f.) Aelian tells the anecdote of Zeuxis and Megabyzus. (Var. Hist. 2.2.) Pliny (l. c.) also tells us that Apelles, having been commissioned by Alexander to paint his favourite concubine, Campaspe (Παγκάοτη Aelian, Ael. VH 12.34), naked, fell in love with her, upon which Alexander gave her to him as a present ; and according to some she was the model of the painter's best picture, the Venus Anadyomene. From all the information we have of the connexion of Apelles with Alexander, we may safely conclude that the former accompanied the latter into Asia. After Alexander's death he appears to have travelled through the western parts of Asia. To this period we may probably refer his visit to Rhodes and his intercourse with Protogenes. (See below.) Being driven by a storm to Alexandria, after the assumption of the regal title by Ptolemy, whose favour he had not gained while he was with Alexander, his rivals laid a plot to ruin him, which he defeated by an ingenious use of his skill in drawing. (Plin. Nat. 35.36.13.) Lucian relates that Apelles was accused by his rival Antiphilus of having had a share in the conspiracy of Theodotus at Tyre, and that when Ptolemy discovered the falsehood of the charge, he presented Apelles with a hundred talents, and gave Antiphilus to him as a slave : Apelles commemorated the event in an allegorical picture. (De Calumn. 59. §§ 2-6, vol. iii. pp. 127-132.) Lucian's words imply that he had seen this picture, but he may have been mistaken in ascribing it to Apelles. He seems also to speak of Apelles as if he had been living at Ptolemy's court before this event occurred. If, therefore, Pliny and Lucian are both to be believed, we may conclude, from comparing their tales, that Apelles, having been accidentally driven to Alexandria, overcame the dislike which Ptolemy bore to him, and remained in Egypt during the latter part of his life, enjoying the favour of that king, in spite of the schemes of his rivals to disgrace him. The account of his life cannot be carried further; we are not told when or where he died; but from the above facts his date can be fixed, since he practised his art before the death of Philip (B. C. 336), and after the assumption of the regal title by Ptolemy. (B. C. 306.) As the result of a minute examination of all the facts, Tölken (Amalth. iii. pp. 117-119) places him between 352 and 308 B. C. According to Pliny, he flonrished about the 112th Olympiad, B. C. 332.

Many anecdotes are preserved of Apelles and his contemporaries, which throw an interesting light both on his personal and his professional character. He was ready to acknowledge that in some points he was excelled by other artists, as by Amphion in grouping and by Asclepiadorus in perspective. (Plin. Nat. 35.36.10.) He first caused the merits of Protogenes to be understood. Coming to Rhodes, and finding that the works of Protogenes were scarcely valued at all by his country-men, he offered him fifty talents for a single picture, and spread the report that he meant to sell the picture again as his own. (Plin. ib. § 13.) In speaking of the great artists who were his contemporaries, he ascribed to them every possible excellence except one, namely, grace, which he claimed for himself alone. (Ib. § 10.)

Throughout his whole life, Apelles laboured to improve himself, especially in drawing, which he never spent a day without practising. (Plin. ib. § 12; hence the proverb Nulla dies sine linca.) The tale of his contest with Protogenes affords an example both of the skill to which Apelles attained in this portion of his art, and cf the importance attached to it in all the great schools of Greece.

Apelles had sailed to Rhodes, eager to meet Protogenes. Upon landing, he went straight to that artist's studio. Protogenes was absent, but a large panel ready to be painted on hung in the studio. Apelles seized the pencil, and drew an

excessively thin coloured line on the panel, by which Protogenes, on his return, at once guessed who had been his visitor, and in his turn drew a still thinner line of a different colour upon or within the former (according to the reading of the recent editions of Pliny, in ilia ipsa). When Apelles returnend and saw the lines, ashamed to be defeated, says Pliny, "tertio colore lineas secuit, nullum relinquens amplius subtilitati locum." (Ib. § 11.) The most natural explanation of this difficult passage seems to be, that down the middle of the first line of Apelles, Protogenes drew another so as to divide it into two parallel halves, and that Apelles again divided the line of Protogenes in the same manner. Pliny speaks of the three lines as visum effugientes. [*](* Does this refer only to the excessive thinness of the lines, or may it mean that the three lines were actually tapered away towards a common vanishing point ?) The panel was preserved, and carried to Rome, where it remained, exciting more wonder than all the other works of art in the palace of the Caesars, till it was destroyed by fire with that building.

Of the means which Apelles took to ensure accuracy, the following example is given. He used to expose his finished pictures to view in a public place, while he hid himself behind the picture to hear the criticisms of the passers-by. A cobbler detected a fault in the shoes of a figure : the next day he found that the fault was corrected, and was proceeding to criticise the leg, when Apelles rushed from behind the picture, and commanded the cobbler to keep to the shoes. (Plin. Ib. § 12 : hence the proverb, Ne supra crepidam sutor : see also V. Max. 8.12, ext. § 3; Lucian tells the tale of Phidias, pro Imag. 14, vol. ii. p. 492.) Marvellous tales are told of the extreme accuracy of his likenesses of men and horses. (Plin. Nat. 35.36. §§ 14, 17; Lucian, de Calumn. l.c.; Aelian, Ael. VH 2.3.) With all his diligence, however, Apelles knew when to cease correcting. He said that he excelled Protogenes in this one point, that the latter did not know when to leave a picture alone, and he laid down the maxim, Nocere saepe nimiam diligentiam. (Plin. l.c. § 10; Cic. Orat. 22; Quint. Inst. 10.4.)

Apelles is stated to have made great improvements in the mechanical part of his art. The assertion of Pliny, that he used only four colours, is incorrect. (Dict. of Ant. s. v. Colores.) He painted with the pencil, but we are not told whether he used the cestrum. His principal discovery was that of covering the picture with a very thin black varnish (atramentum), which, besides preserving the picture, made the tints clearer and subdued the more brilliant colours. (Plin. l.c. § 18.) The process was, in all probability, the same as that now called glazing or toning, the object of which is to attain the excellence of colouring "which does not proceed from fine colours, but true colours; from breaking down these fine colours, which would appear too raw, to a deeptoned brightness." (Sir. J. Reynolds, Notes on Du Fresnoy, note 37.) From the fact mentioned by Pliny, that this varnishing could be discovered only on close inspection, Sir J. Reynolds thought that it was like that of Correggio. That he painted on moveable panels is evident from the frequent mention of tabulae with reference to his pictures. Pliny expressly says, that he did not paint on walls. (35.37.)

A list of the works of Apelles is given by Pliny. (35.36.) They are for the most part single figures, or groups of a very few figures. Of his portraits the most celebrated was that of Alexander wielding a thunderbolt, which was known as ὁ κεραυνοφόρος, and which gave occasion to the saying, that of two Alexanders, the one, the son of Philip, was invincible, the other, he of Apelles, inimitable. (Plut. Fort. Alex. 2, 3.) In this picture, the thunderbolt and the hand which held it appeared to stand out of the panel; and, to aid this effect, the artist did not scruple to represent Alexander's complexion as dark, though it was really light. (Plut. Alex. 4.) The price of this picture was twenty talents. Another of his portraits, that of Antigonus, has been celebrated for its concealment of the loss of the king's eye, by representing his face in profile. He also painted a portrait of himself. Among his allegorical pictures was one representing Castor and Pollux, with Victory and Alexander the Great, how grouped we are not told; and another in which the figure of War, with his hands tied behind his back, followed the triumphal car of Alexander. " He also painted," says Pliny, "things which cannot be painted, thunders and lightnings, which they call Bronte, Astrape, and Ceramobolia." These were clearly allegorical figures. Several of his subjects were taken from the heroic mythology. But of all his pictures the most admired was the " Venus Anadyomene," (ἡ ἀναδυομένη Ἀφροδίτη), or Venus rising out of the sea. The goddess was wringing her hair, and the falling drops of water formed a transparent silver veil around her form. This picture, which is said to have cost 100 talents, was painted for the temple of Aesculapius at Cos, and afterwards placed by Augustus in the temple which he dedicated to Julius Caesar. The lower part being injured, no one could be found to repair it. As it continued to decay, Nero had a copy of it made by Dorotheus. (Plin. l.c.; Strab. xiv. p.657.) Apelles commenced another picture of Venus for the Coans, which he intended should surpass the Venus Anadyomene. At his death, he had finished only the head, the upper part of the breast, and the outline of the figure; but Pliny says, that it was more admired than his former finished picture. No one could be found to complete the work. (Plin. xxxv. l.c., and 40.41; Cic. Fam. 1.9.4, de Off. 3.2.)

By the general consent of ancient authors, Apelles stands first among Greek painters. To the undiscriminating admiration of Pliny, who seems to have regarded a portrait of a horse, so true that other horses neighed at it, as an achievement of art as admirable as the Venus Anadyomene itself, we may add the unmeasured praise which Cicero, Varro, Columella, Ovid, and other writers give to the works of Apelles, and especially to the Venus Anadyomene. (Cic. Brut. 18, de Orat. 3.7; Varro, L. L. 9.12, ed. Muller; Colum. R. R. Praef. § 31, Schn.; Ovid. Art. Am. 3.401; Pont. 4.1. 29; Propert. 3.7. 11; Auson. Ep. 106 ; Anthol. Planud. 4.178-182.) Statius (Stat. Silv. 1.1. 100) and Martial (11.9) call painting by the name of " Ars Apellea." Sir Joshua Reynolds says of the Greek painters, and evidently with an especial reference to Apelles, "if we had the good fortune to possess what the ancients themselves esteemed their masterpieces, I have no doubt but we should find their figures as correctly drawn as the Laocoon,

and probably coloured like Titian" (Notes on Du Fresnoy, note 37); and, though the point has been disputed, such is the general judgment of the best modern authorities. It need scarcely be said, that not one of the pictures of Apelles remains to decide the question by.

In order to understand what was the excellence which was peculiar to Apelles, we must refer to the state of the art of painting in his time. (Dict. of Ant. s. v. Painting.) After the essential forms of Polygnotus had been elevated to dramatic effect and ideal expression by Apollodorus and Zeuxis, and enlivened with the varied character and feeling which the school of Eupompus drew forth from direct observation of nature, Apelles perceived that something still was wanting, something which the refinements attained by his contemporaries in grouping, perspective, accuracy, and finish, did not supply--something which he boasted, and succeeding ages confirmed the boast, that he alone achieved--namely, the quality called χάρις, venustas, grace (Plin. Nat. 35.36.10; Quint. Inst. 12.10; Plut. Demetr. 22; Aelian, Ael. VH 12.41); that is, not only beauty, sublimity, and pathos, but beauty, sublimity, and pathos, each in its proper measure ; the expending of power enough to produce the desired effect, and no more; the absence of all exaggeration, as well as of any sensible deficiency; the most natural and pleasing mode of impressing the subject on the spectator's mind, without displaying the means by which the impression is produced. In fact, the meaning which Fuseli attaches to the word seems to be that in which it was used by Apelles : " By grace I mean that artless balance of motion and repose sprung from character, founded on propriety, which neither falls short of the demands nor overleaps the modesty of nature. Applied to execution, it means that dexterous power which hides the means by which it was attained, the difficulties it has conquered." (Lect. 1.) In the same Lecture Fuseli gives the following estimate of the character of Apelles as an artist : "The name of Apelles in Pliny is the synonyme of unrivalled and unattainable excellence, but the enumeration of his works points out the modification which we ought to apply to that superiority; it neither comprises exclusive sublimity of invention, the most acute discrimination of character, the widest sphere of comprehension, the most judicious and best balanced composition, nor the deepest pathos of expression: his great prerogative consisted more in the unison than in the extent of his powers; he knew better what he could do, what ought to be done, at what point he could arrive, and what lay beyond his reach, than any other artist. Grace of conception and refinement of taste were his elements, and went hand in hand with grace of execution and taste in finish; powerful and seldom possessed singly, irresistible when united: that he built both on the firm basis of the former system, not on its subversion, his well-known contest of lines with Protogenes, not a legendary tale, but a well attested fact, irrefragably proves : .... the corollaries we may adduce from the contest are obviously these, that the schools of Greece recognized all one elemental principle : that acuteness and fidelity of eye and obedience of hand form precision ; precision, proportion; proportion, beauty : that it is the `little more or less,' imperceptible to vulgar eyes, which constitutes grace, and establishes the superiority of one artist above another : that the knowledge ledge of the degrees of things, or taste, presupposes a perfect knowledge of the things themselves : that colour, grace, and taste, are ornaments, not substitutes, of form, expression, and character; and, when they usurp that title, degenerate into splendid faults. Such were the principles on which Apelles formed his Venus, or rather the personification of Female Grace,--the wonder of art, the despair of artists." That this view of the Venus is right, is proved, if proof were needed, by the words of Pliny (35.36.10), "Deesse iis unam Venerem dicebat, quam Graeci Charita vocant," except that there is no reason for calling the Venus "the personification of Female Grace ;" it was rather Grace personified in a female form.