Apelles

, one of the most celebrated painters of antiquity, was born in the isle of Cos, according to Pliny, but Lucian and Strabo assign Ephesus as the place of his birth, and Suidas, Colophon. He flourished in the fourth century B. C. and in the time of Alexander the Great. He was in high favour with this prince, who made a law that no other person should draw his picture but Apelles: he accordingly drew him, holding a thunderbolt in his hand, and the piece was finished with so much skill and dexterity, that it used to be said there were two Alexanders; one invincible, the son of Philip, the other inimitable, the production of Apelles. Alexander gave him likewise another remarkable proof of his regard: for when he employed Apelles to draw Campaspe, one of his mistresses, having found that he had conceived an affection for her, he resigned her to him; and it was from her that Apelles is said to have drawn his Venus Anadyomene. This prince went often to see Apelles when at work; and one day, as he was overlooking him, he is said to have talked so absurdly about painting, that Apelles desired him to hold his tongue; telling him that the very boys who mixed the colours laughed at him. Freinshemius, however, thinks it incredible that Apelles would make use of such an expression to Alexander; or that the latter, who had so good an education, and so fine a genius, would talk so impertinently of painting: nor, perhaps, would Apelles have expressed himself to this prince in such a manner upon any other occasion. Alexander, as we are told, having seen his picture drawn by Apelles, did not commend it so much as it deserved: a little after, a horse happened to be brought, which neighed at sight of the horse painted in the same picture: upon which Apelles is said to have addressed Alexander, “Sir, it is plain this horse understands painting better than your majesty.” Bayle, with some reason, doubts the truth of these anecdotes, and thinks, if true, he must have been a capricious buffoon, which is not consistent with the character usually given of him.

One of Apelles’s chief excellences was the making his | pictures so exactly resemble the persons represented^ that the physiognomists were able to form a judgment as readily from his portraits, as if they had seen the originals. His readiness and dexterity at taking a likeness was of singular service in extricating him from a difficulty in which he was involved at the court of Egypt. He had not the good fortune to be in favour with Ptolemy, but a storm forced him to take shelter at Alexandria, during the reign of this prince; where a mischievous fellow went to him, and in the king’s name invited him to dinner. Apelles went j and seeing the king in a violent passion, told him, by way of excuse, that he should not have come to Ins table but by his order. He was commanded to shew the man who had invited him; which was impossible, the person who had put the trick upon him not being present; Apelles, however, drew a sketch of his image upon the wall with a coal, the first lines of which discovered him immediately to Ptolemy.

Apelles left many excellent pictures, which are men^ tioned with great honour by the ancients; but his Venus Anadyomene is reckoned his master-piece. His Antigonus has also been much celebrated: this was drawn with a side-face, to hide the deformity of Antigonus, who had lost an eye. His picture of Calumny has also been much noticed, and is thus explained by Lucian: Antiphilus the painter, being piqued at the favour shown to Apelles at the court of Ptolemy, accused him of being an accomplice in the conspiracy of Theodotus, governor of Phoenicia: he affirmed that he had seen Apelles at dinner with Theodotus, and whispering to him all the time of his entertainment. Ptolemy was also informed by the same person, that by the advice of Apelles, the city of Tyre had revolted, and that of Pelnsium was taken. Although it was certain that Apelles had never been at Tyre, and that he was not acquainted with Theodotus, Ptolemy was so enraged, that, without examining into the affair, he determined to put to death the person accused; and if one of the conspirators had not convinced him that this was a mere calumny of Antiphilus, Apelles must undoubtedly have suffered death upon this accusation. But as soon as Ptolemy knew the truth of this affair, he condemned Antiphilus to be a slave to Apelles, and gave the latter a hundred talents. Mr. Bayle remarks upon this account of Lucian, that he has fallen into a great anachronism; for | the conspiracy of Theoclotus was in the reign of Ptolemy Philopater, which did not begin till an hundred years after the death of Alexander the Great; and for what he asserts, he quotes the authority of Polybius (lib. iv. and v.) “We must therefore,” says he, “suppose one or other of these two things; either that Lucian speaks of an Apelles, different from him who was in such reputation at Alexandria; or that he has confounded some plot which was contrived under Ptolemy Philadelphus, with the conspiracy of Theo dotus.

To this account of Apelles, taken principally from Bayle, it may be necessary to add the opinion of a very superior critic, who observes, that “The name of Apelles in Pliny is the synonime of unrivalled and unattainable excellence, but the enumeration of his works points out the modiiication 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; what those lines were, drawn with nearly miraculous subtlety in different colours, one upon the other, or rather within each other, it would be equally unavailing and useless to inquire; but the corollaries we may deduce 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 over another; that the knowledge 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 the birthday of love, the wonder of art, the despair of artists; whose outline baffled every attempt at emendation, whilst imitation shrunk from the purity, the force, the brilliancy, the evanescent gradations of her tints.1

1

Gen. Dict.—Fuseli’s Lectures.