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Painter/Artist: Apelles

( Originally Published 1955 )

Outstanding Greek painter of the fourth century, he was born about 370 B.C. in Kolophon. He studied at Ephesos and spent twelve years at Sikyon, one of the major local schools into which Greek painting had divided in his century. Here he trained with Pamphilos who had, by rules and science, reduced the technical aspect of painting to an academic discipline. At about 340 B.C. Apelles was settled at the Macedonian court where he worked for Philip and Alexander. His work was in great demand and he traveled much throughout the Greek world. We know a good deal about him from description and anecdote in literature but the nature of his style is not clear. Vase paintings were no longer evidence for monumental painting in this era because the illusionistic tendencies of the latter diverged from the decorative tradition of ceramics. In Apelles' case our usual source, Pompeian painting and mosaic, is not revealing. It would appear that he did much to refine the use of spatial and modeling chiaroscuro, perhaps in a Rembrandtesque fashion. He used the traditional fourcolor palette, but employed a unique glazing which preserved the freshness of his colors and the activity of his forms. Most famous of his subjects were an Aphrodite Rising from the Sea painted for Kos and removed by Augustus to Rome, and Calumny, an allegory directed at a rival painter at the Ptolemaic court. Of his several portraits of the Macedonian monarchs, the realism of the equestrian portrait of Alexander is supposed to have caused a horse to whinny at it.

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