Botticelli: The Calumny of Apelles

Calumny dragging the man by the hair.It seems that every allegorical painting opens a door to deeper truth. The Calumny of Appelles was painted by Sandro Botticelli in 1494 from the description of a lost painting by Apelles, a Greek painter, who lived in the 4th century BC.

The painting now resides in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and does not stop to amaze visitors with its beauty and metaphorical insight. In the centre of this painting is an innocent man on the floor who is being dragged to King Midas on the throne who has to decide his fate. Calumny (Slander), in blue and white, is dragging the man by his hair, while Perfidy (Deceit) and Fraud are behind her, arranging her hair. A man dressed in black, holding Calumny’s hand, is Rancour (Envy) who is stretching his hand to the King. The old woman in black is Remorse, who glances at the naked Truth, a young woman who points to the sky. The lady is naked because, like the man on the floor, she has nothing to hide, and she urges the others to consider higher values in life. By pointing at heaven, she also gives a sign to others that a fair judgement is reserved for all after their deaths. However, King Midas, who has to pass a judgement on the innocent man, has his eyes downcast, not seeing the picture fully and clearly in front of him. He is guided by Ignorance and Suspicion, the two ladies on each side of him, who whisper in his donkey ears their suggestions on the course of action to take.

9 thoughts on “Botticelli: The Calumny of Apelles

    1. I have to admit that I did not know about its allegorical meaning until I got face to face to it at the museum when I lived in Florence and read the description. That was some wonderful revelation to me. Allegorical paintings are so thought-provoking.

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        1. An interesting question. Maybe because it is not really Midas, but a King depicted with ass ears, which suggest this name. It is a reproduction of some earlier Greek painting, produced from an oral/written story, so it could be some king from the Ptolemaic dynasty.

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            1. I guess when it comes to antiquities no one can really be sure about anything, especially when its art, that can be pretty inventive in itself 🙂

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              1. I think the mystery of the ruler’s identity does heighten and add to the intensiveness of the painting for the scene is totally Greek . Appelles lived 370-306 BC. The Ptolemaic Kingdom didn’t start until 305 B.C. It wasn’t like Alexander the Great sit a pharaoh on the throne when he first defeated Egypt. There was about 20 years of fighting after the death of Alexander the Great.

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                1. That is exactly the point. Some sources say that Ptolemy – still only “one of Alexander’s generals” was the character in the real “conspiracy”. The King in the painting then was a bit of an invention. That could easily be around 320 BC, I am not too sure.


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