Calumny of Apelles (Botticelli)  

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mythological painting

The Calumny of Apelles is a tempera painting by Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli. Based on the description of a painting by Apelles, the work was completed in approximately 1494. It is on display in the Uffizi in Florence.


In The Calumny of Apelles, Botticelli drew on the description of a painting by Apelles, a Greek painter of the Hellenistic Period. Though Apelles' works have not survived, Lucian recorded details of one in his On Calumny:

On the right of it sits a man with very large ears, almost like those of Midas, extending his hand to Slander while she is still at some distance from him. Near him, on one side, stand two women—Ignorance and Suspicion. On the other side, Slander is coming up, a woman beautiful beyond measure, but full of malignant passion and excitement, evincing as she does fury and wrath by carrying in her left hand a blazing torch and with the other dragging by the hair a young man who stretches out his hands to heaven and calls the gods to witness his innocence. She is conducted by a pale ugly man who has piercing eye and looks as if he had wasted away in long illness; he represents envy. There are two women in attendance to Slander, one is Fraud and the other Conspiracy. They are followed by a woman dressed in deep mourning, with black clothes all in tatters—she is Repentance. At all events, she is turning back with tears in her eyes and casting a stealthy glance, full of shame, at Truth, who is slowly approaching. "Calumniae non temere credendum "

Botticelli reproduced this quite closely, down to the donkey ears of the seated man, into which the women that flank him speak. A richly gowned Slander (or Calumny), with her hair being dressed by her attendants, is being led by her slender, robed companion. The man she is dragging, nearly nude and with his ankles crossed as if to be crucified, raises his hands in prayer. The woman behind him turns her head to regard the stately pale nude pointing to the heavens.

Without description of the setting, Botticelli has presented a throne room elaborately decorated with sculptures and reliefs of Classical heroes and battle scenes.


The renowned work of Apelles provided several exemplars for the narrative realism admired by Greco-Roman connoisseurs, succinctly expressed in Horace's words ut pictura poesis, "as is painting so is poetry." Apelles seemed to have had a taste for elaborate allegory and personification, which he carried far in his rendering of Calumny, described by Lucian, in which an innocent youth is falsely accused by Ignorance, Envy, Treachery and Deceit. The story occasioning the painting was alleged to have been false accusations by a rival artist that Apelles took part in a conspiracy against Ptolemy. This almost led to the artist's execution. Martin Kemp notes that "In the Renaissance the exemplar of the poetic painting which was invariably cited whenever the art-poetry question was discussed was the Calumny of Apelles, known through Lucian's description." Sandro Botticelli's panel of Calumny of Apelles was painted in conscious striving to equal the painting in Lucian's ekphrasis.

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