Calumny of Apelles | Sandro Botticelli | 1494
The facts we know on Sandro Botticelli are scarce and, even, little interesting; so I’m going to say that his work was underestimated for long years until, at the end of the 19th century, the painter was vindicated as one of the major exponents of the early Italian renaissance, attracting the attention of the scholars by the complexity of the symbols he used.
But the story behind today’s painting, the Calumny of Apelles, is very particular.
The Italian artist bases in the description of a painting that the Greek Lucian from Samosata made. The intelligent reader of the blog would son realize that the author of that painting is Apeles, an artist, also Greek, from whom no painting survived.
As we were saying, Botticelli’s work is full of strange and cryptic symbols. And the Calumny of Apelles is no exception. So I’m just going to transcribe Lucian’s text, the original source for the work, to see if it makes us understand.
“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, I think, and Suspicion. On the other side, Slander is coming up, a woman beautiful beyond measure, but full of 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 may be supposed to be Envy. Besides, there are two women in attendance on Slander, egging her on, tiring [dressing] her and tricking her out. According to the interpretation of them given me by the guide of the picture, one was Treachery and the other Deceit. They were followed by a woman dressed in deep mourning, with black clothes all in tatters—Repentance, I think her name was. At all events, she was turning back with tears in her eyes and casting a stealthy glance, full of shame, at Truth, who was approaching”
Say whay? Yes, evidently the text makes me even more confuse than before. However, what we have to admire about Botticelli is the ability to put in a canvas all the details of a confusing text that’s not even his.