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On Calumny

I was reading a very old and lovely book, this morning, by John Ruskin when I came across the following piece; immediately prior to it Ruskin mentioned the name Sandro Botticelli (1445 – May 17, 1510), the Italian Rennaissance Artist. Now Ruskin’s volume concerns architecture and I was struggling to connect this to an Italian Artist until I found Botticelli’s painting, ‘The Calumny of Apelles’, and read its history…

“We are too much in the habit of looking at falsehood in its darkest associations, and through the colour of its worst purposes. That indignation which we profess to feel at deceit absolute, is indeed only at deceit malicious. We resent calumny, hypocrisy and treachery, because they harm us, not because they are untrue.

Take the detraction and the mischief from the untruth, and we are little offended by it; turn it into praise, and we may be pleased with it. And yet it is not calumny nor treachery that do the largest sum of mischief in the world; they are continually crushed, and are felt only in being conquered.

But it is the glistening and softly spoken lie; the amiable fallacy; the patriotic lie of the historian, the provident lie of the politician, the zealous lie of the partizan, the merciful lie of the friend, and the careless lie of each man to himself, that cast that black mystery over humanity, through which we thank any man who pierces, as we would thank one who dug a well in a desert; happy, that the thirst for truth still remains with us, even when we have willfully left the fountains of it.”
Ref: Ruskin J, The Seven Lamps of Architecture George Allen, London 1891 p. 53-54

“In The Calumny of Apelles, Botticelli drew on the description of a painting by Apelles, a Greek painter of the Classical 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, 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.
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.”
Ref: Wikipedia – Calumny of Apelles

“An apocryphal story is connected to the painting. Rudolph Altrocchi, in 1921, relates that Apelles had himself been slandered, accused by a rival of helping Theodotus of Aetolia to foster revolt in Tyre. (Altrocchi assures readers that the story cannot be true, as Apelles had been long dead before the revolt of which he is accused.) Ptolemy was on the verge of executing Apelles for the deed, so the story goes, when a friend revealed the truth and the slanderer himself was sold into slavery. Nevertheless, Apelles expressed his resentment for Ptolemy and the peril in which he found himself in his painting.
The story of Apelles’ painting became popular in Renaissance Italy, and Botticelli was not the first Italian Renaissance artist to paint it. This work, completed in 1494, was the last secular painting he would produce. It may have been undertaken as a commission of the Florentian banker who oversaw the Papal Mint. It is often assumed that Botticelli had a specific slandered individual in mind, perhaps even himself, as an anonymous person had accused him of sodomy.”
Ref: Wikipedia – The Story Behind the Painting

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an example of how little impact the passage of some six hundred years has made on basic human nature.

Peter Reid retired from teaching in 2002 and returned to university, achieving MA photography. Since then he has traveled throughout Europe researching on two fronts; The photographer’s Human Rights and Gothic Architecture. He holds Associate membership of the Royal Photographic Society and is a past member of The Royal Musical Society. In 2012 he was successful at ABRSM grade 3 Piano, and now grade 4 beckons.

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