Mythic Art: Calumny of Apelles

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Sandro Botticelli, Calumny of Apelles, 1497
Mythic Art


Calumny of Apelles
depicts a dramatic court case where the physical manifestation of Slander or Calumny (illustrated in brown with a decadent golden staff) with the help of his assistants drag an innocent man to the King. Each figure in the piece represents a different emotion or action, for instance, those who assist Slander are Fraud and Conspiracy. One of the attendants attempts to break apart the bond (exemplified by the physical bond of the characters through their hair) of Slander, Fraud and Conspiracy. The woman in the black cloak (Repentance) mourns for the young man's salvation while staring at Truth. Envy dressed in green and Ignorance dressed in red surround King Midas and whisper into his ear. 

Botticelli created this work based off of the painting completed by Apelles. Apelles', a renowned artist of the Hellenistic period of Alexander the Great, work did not survive. However, Lucian of Samosata who was a writer and commentator of the time period, recorded the details of the piece and the story itself. Although, the contents of the story are myth, Apelles himself was wrongfully accused of assisting Theodutus of Aetolia in revolting in Tyre. Shortly before Apelles was sent to execution, Apelles' friend revealed the truth and his accuser was sold into slavery. 

The Renaissance in Italy sought to revive the old cultures of Greece and Rome. Renaissance Italy was fascinated by the story of the myth and Apelles' actual story. A Florentine banker commissioned Botticelli to paint this work in the Papal Mint. The piece contains decadent sculpture and gold throughout the palace, a reference to the famous fable about King Midas, in which everything he touches subsequently turns to gold. Botticelli's Calumny of Apelles discusses bias in the legal justice system, prejudice in Roman and contemporary society and importance of art in lives of the ruling class. For these reasons, Calumny of Apelles serves a representative piece of mythology in art. 

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