Whosoever scorns painting is unjust to truth; and he is also unjust to all the wisdom that has been bestowed upon poets – for poets and painters make equal contribution to our knowledge of the deeds and the looks of heroes – and he withholds his praise from symmetry of proportion, whereby art partakes of reason. For one who wishes a clever theory, the invention of painting belongs to the gods – witness on earth all the designs with which the Seasons paint the meadows, and the manifestations we see in the heavens – but for one who is merely seeking the origin of art, imitation is an invention most ancient and most akin to nature; and wise men invented it, calling it now painting, now plastic art. There are many forms of plastic art – plastic art proper, or modeling, and imitation in bronze, and the work of those who carve Lygdian or Parian marble, and ivory carving, and, by Zeus, the art of gem-cutting is also plastic art – while painting is imitation by the use of colours; and not only does it employ colour, but this second form of art cleverly accomplishes more with this one means than the other form with its many means. For it both reproduces light and shade and also permits the observer to recognize the look, now of the man who is mad, now of the man who is sorrowing or rejoicing. The varying nature of bright eyes the plastic artist does not bring out at all in his work; but the “grey eye,” the “blue eye,” and “black eye” are known to painting; and it knows chestnut and red and yellow hair, and the colour of garments and of armour, chambers too and houses and groves and mountains and springs and the air that envelops them all. Now the story of the men who have won mastery in the science of painting, and of the states and kings that have been passionately devoted to it, has been told by other writers, notably Aristodemus of Caria, whom I visited for four years in order to study painting; and he painted in the technique of Eumelus, but with much more charm. The present discussion, however, is not to deal with painters nor yet with their lives; rather we propose to describe examples of paintings in the form of addresses which we have composed for the young, that by this means they may learn to interpret paintings and to appreciate what is esteemed in them. The occasion of these discourses of min was as follows: It was the time of the public games at Naples, a city in Italy settled by men of the Greek race and people of culture, and therefore Greek in their enthusiasm for discussion. And as I did not wish to deliver my addresses in public, the young men kept coming to the house of my host and importuning me. I was lodging outside the walls in a suburb facing the sea, where there was a portico built on four, I think, or possibly five terraces, open to the west wind and looking out on the Tyrrhenian sea. It was resplendent with all the marbles favoured by luxury, but it was particularly splendid by reason of the panel-paintings set in the walls, paintings which I though had been collected with real judgment, for they exhibited the skill of very many painters. The idea had already occurred to me that I ought to speak in praise of the paintings, when the son of my host, quite a young boy, only ten years old but already an ardent listener and eager to learn, kept watching me as I went from one to another and asking me to interpret them. So in order that he might not think me ill-bred, “Very well,” I said, “we will make them the subject of a discourse as soon as the young men come.” And when they came, I said, “Let me put the boy in front and address to him my effort at interpretation; but do you follow, not only agreeing but also asking questions if anything I say is not clear.” (trans. A. Fairbanks, 1931)

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Ne pas aimer la peinture, c'est mépriser la réalité même, c'est mépriser ce genre de mérite que nous rencontrons chez les poètes, car la peinture, comme la poésie, se complaît à nous représenter les traits et les actions des héros ; c'est aussi n'avoir point d'estime pour la science des proportions, par laquelle l'art se rattache à l'usage même de la raison. Si l'on voulait parler avec subtilité, on dirait que la peinture est une invention' des dieux, en songeant aux différents aspects de la terre dont les prairies sont comme peintes par les Saisons, et à tout ce que nous voyons dans le ciel. Mais, pour remonter sérieusement à l'origine de l'art, l'imitation est une invention des plus anciennes, du même âge que la nature elle-même. Nous en devons la découverte à des hommes habiles qui l'appelèrent tantôt peinture et tantôt plastique. La plastique même se divise en plusieurs genres : car, imiter avec l'airain, polir le Lygdos ou le Paros, travailler l'ivoire, tout cela rentre dans la plastique, sans compter l'art de graver sur métaux. La peinture consiste dans l'emploi des couleurs, mais non en cela seul, ou plutôt de cet unique moyen elle tire un plus grand parti qu'un autre art de ressources nombreuses. En effet, elle représente les ombres, elle varie l'expression des regards, suivant qu'elle nous montre la fureur, la douleur ou la joie. Donner aux yeux l'éclat qui leur est propre, c'est ce que ne saurait faire la plastique ; ils sont brillants, ils sont d'un vert bleuâtre, ils sont noirs dans les représentations de la peinture. Les cheveux sont d'un blond fauve, ardent, doré. Tout a sa couleur, les vêtements, les armes, les maisons et les appartements, les bois, les montagnes, les sources et l'air qui enveloppe toutes choses. Beaucoup d'artistes ont excellé dans cet art; beaucoup de villes, beaucoup de rois l'ont aimé avec passion ; mais c'est là une histoire que d'autres ont racontée avant moi, et par exemple, Aristodème de Carie, dont j'ai fait mon hôte, pendant quatre ans, par amour de,la peinture, et qui, disciple lui-même d'Eumélos, ajoutait beaucoup de charme à la manière du maître. Mon intention n'est pas de nommer des peintres ou de raconter leur vie, mais d'expliquer des tableaux variés : c'est une conversation composée pour des jeunes gens, en vue de leur apprendre à s'exprimer, et de former leur goût. Voici à quelle occasion ces discours ont été prononcés. Il y avait alors des jeux à Naples, cette ville de l'Italie fondée par des Grecs, et qui, par ses mœurs élégantes, par son goût pour les lettres, mérite d'être regardée comme une ville grecque. Je ne voulais point déclamer en public, quoique pressé par les jeunes gens qui fréquentaient la maison de mon hôte. Je logeais alors en dehors des murs dans un faubourg bâti sur la côte, et où s'élevait un portique à quatre ou cinq étages, qui avait vue sur la mer Tyrrhénienne. Revêtu des plus beaux marbres que recherche le luxe, il tirait son principal éclat des tableaux encastrés dans ses murs, et choisis, comme il me le semblait, avec un soin tout particulier ; ils témoignaient en effet du talent d'un grand nombre de peintres. De moi-même, j'avais formé le dessein de faire l'éloge de ces peintures ; mais le fils de mon hôte, un enfant d'une dizaine d'années, déjà curieux et avide d'apprendre, épia le moment où je visitai la galerie, et me pria de lui expliquer les tableaux. Ne voulant pas lui paraître trop maladroit : « volontiers, lui dis-je, je commencerai mon explication, quand tes jeunes amis seront arrivés. » Ceux-ci étant venus : « Votre camarade, leur dis-je, posera les questions ; c'est à lui que je consacre mon exercice d'interprète. Quant à vous, suivez le commentaire, mais ne vous contentez pas d'approuver : interrogez, si je ne suis pas assez clair. »

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Commentary

  1. According to recent scholarship, the "Images," or "Eikones," were probably written by Flavius Philostratus, who also authored of "The Life of the Sophists" and the "Life of Apollonius of Tyana" (RE. XX.1. sv. "Philostratos"; Tableaux, 1991, p. 1-2; De Lannoy, 1997, pp. 2413-2438; Bowie, 2009, pp. 19-32). Philostratus lived ca. 165 AD to 244/249 AD.
  2. The meaning of "alètheia" ("thruth", "thruthfulness") is not clear here. It can be understood as "reality" in a philosophical sense, or something along the lines of "the reality we can see" (Schweizer, 1934, pp. 292-300; Pollitt, 1974, p. 182). This meaning of the word, where painting is associated with truth/truthfulness, as seen in text 52 (VA, II, 22) and later in the art theory, was developed during the Quattrocento by, among others, Leonardo Da Vinci (Traité de la peinture, p. 90 n. 23 (codex Urbina 10r) and pp. 110-112, n. 36 (Codex Urbina 4v-5r); Chastel, 1988, p. 99; Tableaux, p. 120).
  3. "Sophia" (cleverness, wisdom) is the main criteria through which poetry and painting can be equated. To explain, the painter is no longer seen as a simple craftsman (banausos), but instead he is a "scholar" whose rank and knowledge rivals that the poet (Horace, Ars Poetica, 361; Plutarch, De Gloria Atheniensis, 3, 346f; Maffei, 1991, pp. 591-621; Tableaux, pp. XIV-XVII; Goldhill, 1994, pp. 197-223; Crescenzo, 1999, pp. 23-32).
  4. The preface sets the patterns which shape the entire work. Here, Philostratus elevates painting above all other art forms. Furthermore, he makes a clear distinction between "plastikè" (sculpting, engraving, modeling in bronze or clay) and "zoographia" (painting). Indeed, he claims that with relatively few resources, painting can express pretty much anything, from shadows, light, and reliefs, to emotions, especially in the gaze of figures. The purpose of the "Images" is puts painting in a competition with words (writing). More specifically, the claim is that pictures made by means of words (ekphrasei) can rival (and even surpass) actual paintings made with forms and colours (Crescenzo, 1999, pp. 23-42; Tableaux, 1991, p.XIV, pp.1-7; Newby, 2009, p.324)
  5. About "glaukos" (" bluish green"), see: Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, II, 26.19. .
  6. Aristodèmos of Caria is not really referenced outside of this text. About Eudemos, Philostrate also wrote about him and his painting, "Helene," in "Life of the Sophists," II, 5.
  7. Philostratus claims that he do not intend to talk about either painters, style, or art criticism (l.22-24). Instead, this is more of a rhetorical and pedagogical exercise. He places the scene, a picture gallery in Naples (a "stoa" - portico- with "pinakes" - paintings embedded in the wall. See 27), in the house of one of his friends. The question of whether the picture gallery in question actually existed has been the subject of debate since the 18th century (Tableaux, pp. 3-6). Therefore, it is not knows whether the pictures are real or not. The most important study on this subject is by K. Lehmann-Hartleben (The Art Bulletin, 1941, pp. 16-44), who defends the authenticity of the pictures and even proposes an architectural reconstitution of them (for a review see : Bryson, 1994, pp. 255-283). However, the question remains undecided and scholarship on the subject generally adopts a balanced point of view: the "Images" is mostly a work of "creative writing" and therefore one must consider the work as a composition mixing imaginary and real elements. It is a rhetorical exercise in which Philostratus aims to appeal to the memory and imagination of his audience (Newby, 2009, p. 322 n.5; Crescenzo, 1999, pp. 44-48; Tableaux, 1991, pp. 3-6; Rouveret, 1989, pp. 303-379; Yates, 1966, pp.13-45).
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Bibliography

Bowie, E. 2009, "Philostratus : the life of a sophist", in Bowie E.and Elsner J. (eds), Philostratus, Cambridge University Press,Cambridge, pp.19-32;

Bryson, N. 1994, "Philostratus and the imaginary museum", in Goldhill S. and Osborne R. (eds), Art and text in Ancient Greek culture, Cambridge University Press, New-York , pp. 255-283;

Chastel, A. 1982, Art et humanisme à Florence au temps de Laurent le Magnifique : études sur la Renaissance et l'humanisme platonicien, 3rd edn., Presses Universitaires de France, Paris;

Crescenzo, R. 1999, Peintures d'instruction. La postérité littéraire des Images de Philostrate en France de Blaise de Vigenère à l'époque classique, Droz, Genève;

Elder Philostratus, Younger Philostratus, Callistratus. 1931, Translated by Fairbanks, Arthur, Loeb Classical Library Volume 256, London;

Goldhill, S. 1994, "The naive and knowing eye : ecphrasis and the culture of viewing in the Hellenistic world" in Goldhill S. and Osborne R. (eds), Art and text in Ancient Greek culture, Cambridge University Press, New-York , pp. 197-223;

L. De Vinci, Traité de la peinture 1987, textes traduits et présentés par A. Chastel, Berger-Levrault, Paris;

Lannoy, L. de. 1997, " Le problème des Philostrate : État de la question", Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt, II, 34.3, pp. 2362-2449;

Lehmann-Hartleben, K. 1941, "The Imagines of the Elder Philostratus", The Art Bulletin, 23, pp. 16-44;

Maffei, S. 1991, "La sophia del pittore e del poeta nel proemino delle Imagines di Filostrato Maggiore" Annali della Scuola Normale di Pisa, Classe di lettere e filosofia, Serie III, 21.2, pp. 591-621;

Newby, Z. 2009, "Absorption and erudition in Philostratus' Imagines" in Bowie E.and Elsner J. (eds), Philostratus, Cambridge University Press,Cambridge, pp. 322-342;

Philostratre, La Galerie de Tableaux, 1991, Préface de Pierre Hadot, La roue à livres, Les Belles Lettres, Paris;

Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (RE) 1941, XX.1 s.v. "Philostratos", 139-141;

Rouveret, A., 2014 Histoire et Imaginaire de la peinture ancienne (Ve siècle av. J.-C.- Ier siècle ap. J.-C.),2d edn. , École Française de Rome, Rome;

Schweizer, B. 1934, "Mimesis und Phantasia", Philologus, 89, pp.286-300;

Yates, F. A. 1966, L'art de la mémoire, Trans. Arasse D., Gallimard, Paris.

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