IDLE SPECULATIONS: The Calumny of Apelles

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Calumny of Apelles



Alessandro Botticelli. (March 1, 1445 – May 17, 1510)
La Calunnia di Apelle/ The Calumny of Apelles. c.1494-1495.
Tempera on panel.
62 × 91 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence


An innocent young man is dragged before the king's throne by the personifications of Calumny, Malice, Fraud and Envy. They are followed to one side by Remorse as an old woman, turning to face the naked Truth. Truth, like the innocent youth, is naked as she has nothing to conceal

Apelles of Kos (flourished 4th century BC) was a renowned painter of ancient Greece.

Pliny the Elder rated him superior to preceding and subsequent artists. He dated Apelles to the 112th Olympiad (332-329 BC).

He continues to be regarded as the greatest painter of antiquity

His works have not survived.

One of his most famous paintings was The Calumny.

Apelles produced his painting because he was unjustly slandered by a jealous artistic rival, Antiphilos, who accused him in front of the gullible king of Egypt, Ptolemy I Soter, of being an accomplice in a conspiracy.

After Apelles had been proven to be innocent, he dealt with his rage and desire for revenge by painting the picture

Several Italian Renaissance painters repeated his subjects including this one. Such works illustrate the admiration felt by Renaissance artists for Antiquity, as well as their desire to rival the achievements of their illustrious forebears

See Wikipedia under Calumny of Apelles (Botticelli) for a full description and commentary.

"Botticelli based his figure of Truth on the classical type of the Venus pudica, as well as his own depictions of Venus. She is a naked beauty, an effective opposite to the personification of Remorse, an old, grief-stricken woman in threadbare clothes.

Truth, like the innocent youth, is almost naked as she has nothing to conceal. The eloquent gestures and expression of the only towering figure in the painting are pointing up towards heaven, where a higher justice will be meted out.

Rancour, clothed in black, is dragging Calumny forward with his right hand; as a symbol of the lies which she has spread, she is holding a burning torch in her left hand, while she is pulling her victim, an almost naked youth, by the hair behind her with her right hand. His innocence is shown by his nakedness, signifying that he has nothing to hide. In vain has he folded his hands so as to beseech his deliverance.

Behind Calumny, the figures of Fraud and Perfidy are studiously engaged in hypocritically braiding the hair of their mistress with a white ribbon and strewing roses over her head and shoulders. In the deceitful forms of beautiful young women, they are making insidious use of the symbols of purity and innocence to adorn the lies of Calumny.

The king is sitting on the right-hand side of the picture on a raised throne in an open hall decorated with reliefs and sculptures. He is flanked by the allegorical figures of Ignorance and Suspicion, who are eagerly whispering the rumours in his donkey's ears, the latter to be understood as symbolizing his rash and foolish nature.

His eyes are lowered, so as he is unable to see what is happening; he is stretching out his hand searchingly towards Rancour, who is standing before him."


Note also the statues and the friezes.

As regards the statues, the one on the extreme right behind Midas is Judith with the Head of Holofernes. Behind Calumny is either David or Theseus. Other statues include Jupiter and Antiope, as well as Minerva and the Head of the Medusa.

As regards the friezes, behind Truth is the battles of the centaurs. Behind Penitence is the meeting between Ariadn and Bacchus. Behind Midas is a family of centaurs.


The setting seems to be medieval Florence.


Justice is one of the fundamental values in a civilised state.

After the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1492, the Republic of Florence fell into a state of turbulence in its political and social affairs.

Savonarola emerged as the new leader of Florence after the invasion of Florence by Chrales VIII in 1494.

He fell from power in 1498 and was executed in May 23, 1498

Botticelli was a follower of Savonarola. The work completed in 1494-5 reflects the influence of Savonarola on the artist in the turbulence that was Florence.

Calumny has of course been part of life since the Dawn of Time. Opportunities for calumny have multiplied since the Internet.

An excellent essay on the subject by Michael P Orsi was published in The American Spectator on 19th October 2007.

He said:

"[Calumny] presents us with a situation of serious moral and ethical concern because it violates the dignity of persons and undermines truth. And in the end, truth is the only basis on which a good society can be built.

Those involved in [calumny] would do well keep in mind the words of the Prophet Isaiah 33:15, which says of the good person: "He who acts with integrity, who speaks sincerely ...shuts suggestion of murder out of his ears, and closes his eyes against crime, this man will dwell in the heights."

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