APELLES, probably the greatest painter of antiquity. He lived from the time of Philip of Macedon till after the death of Alexander. He was of Ionian origin, but after he had attained some celebrity he became a student at the celebrated school of Sicyon, where he worked under Pamphilus. He thus combined the Dorian thoroughness with the Ionic grace. Attracted to the court of Philip, he painted him and the young Alexander with such success that he became the recognized court painter of Macedon, and his picture of Alexander holding a thunderbolt ranked with the Alexander with the spear of the sculptor Lysippus. Other works of Apelles had a great reputation in antiquity, such as the portraits of the Macedonians Clitus, Archelaus and Antigonus, the procession of the high priest of Artemis at Ephesus, Artemis amid a chorus of maidens, a great allegorical picture representing Calumny, and the noted painting representing Aphrodite rising out of the sea. Of none of these works have we any copy, unless indeed we may consider a painting of Alexander as Zeus in the house of the Vettii at Pompeii as a reminiscence of his work; but some of the Italian artists of the Renaissance repeated the subjects, in a vain hope of giving some notion of the composition of them.
Few things are more hopeless than the attempt to realize the style of a painter whose works have vanished. But a great wealth of stories, true or invented, clung to Apelles in antiquity; and modern archaeologists have naturally tried to discover what they indicate. We are told, for example, that he attached great value to the drawing of outlines, practising every day. The tale is well known of his visit to Protogenes, and the rivalry of the two masters as to which could draw the finest and steadiest line. The power of drawing such lines is conspicuous in the decoration of red-figured vases of Athens. Apelles is said to have treated his rival with generosity, for he increased the value of his pictures by spreading a report that he meant to buy them and sell them as his own. Apelles allowed the superiority of some of his contemporaries in particular matters: according to Pliny he admired the dispositio of Melanthius, i.e. the way in which he spaced his figures, and the mensurae of Asclepiodorus, who must have been a great master of symmetry and proportion. It was especially in that undefinable quality "grace" that Apelles excelled. He probably used but a small variety of colours, and avoided elaborate perspective: simplicity of design, beauty of line and charm of expression were his chief merits. When the naturalism of some of his works is praised - for example, the hand of his Alexander is said to have stood out from the picture - we must remember that this is the merit always ascribed by ignorant critics to works which they admire. In fact the age of Alexander was one of notable idealism, and probably Apelles succeeded in a marked degree in imparting to his figures a beauty beyond nature.
Apelles was also noted for improvements which he introduced in technique. He had a dark glaze, called by Pliny atramentum, which served both to preserve his paintings and to soften their colour. There can be little doubt that he was one of the most bold and progressive, of artists.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)