Apelles of Colophon
Apelles of Colophon
Flourished Fourth Century b.c.e .
A Royal Favorite. Apelles of Colophon was taught by Ephorus and Pamphilus of Sicyon, who put painting and drawing at the head of the educational curriculum of free-born boys, an innovation later followed by other Greek poleis (city-states). Apelles was the most celebrated of all ancient painters, at least by Pliny. He produced two volumes of written work on painting; and, while nothing of these survives, it is likely that Pliny used them as a source in his account of Apelles’ achievements. As did Lysippus, Apelles enjoyed the unique patronage of Alexander, and only he was permitted to paint the royal portrait; he also painted Alexander’s father, Philip II. Anecdotes connect him as well with fellow painter Protogenes, and Ptolemy I (one of Alexander’s generals and successors). His image of Alexander wielding a thunderbolt in the temple of Artemis at Ephesus became famous, but seemed to have incurred the disapproval of Lysippus; other depictions by Apelles of Alexander included a triumph in which the king leads a personification of War as a bound captive, and another showing him with Victory, Castor, and Pollux. Other generals of Alexander painted by Apelles include Neoptolemos, Antigonos, and Archelaos.
Nature. He was reputed to be such a fine painter of horses that they neighed only at his paintings, and his Nude Hero, says Pliny, challenged Nature herself. His painting of Calumny is described at length in ancient accounts, and is said to allegorize his own experience in being slandered at the court of Ptolemy and nearly losing his life for it. (The ancient description influenced Botticelli to paint a version in the Renaissance.)
Aphrodite. Apelles’ most famous work was Aphrodite Anaduomene (Aphrodite Rising from the Sea), painted in Cos, then moved to Rome and universally admired; according to some, Phryne, Praxiteles’ mistress, was the model. His attempt to repeat the image was cut short by death, brought on, it was said, by the envy of Nature herself. Apelles prided himself on the kharis (grace) of his works which outdid even those of his rivals whose works he admired; and he claimed to know, unlike Protogenes, when to cease working on a picture. As a result of considerable theoretical calculations he was able to cover his paintings in the finest black glaze that muted excessively bright colors and accentuated the reflection of others.
Franciscus Junius, The Literature of Classical Art, 2 volumes, edited and translated by Keith Aldrich, Philipp Fehl, and Raina Fehl (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).