a celebrated Athenian painter, was the son of Nicomedes, and the disciple of Antidotus (Plin. Nat. 35.11. s. 40.28
). On this ground Silligargues that since Antidotus was the pupil of Euphranor, who flourished about the 104th Olympiad, Nicias must have flourished about Ol. 117 or about B. C. 310. And this agrees with the story of Plutarch about the unwillingness of Nicias to sell one of his pictures to Ptolemy, king of Egypt, if we suppose Ptolemy I. to be meant (Non poss. suav. viv. sec. Epicureos,
11). On the other hand, Pliny tells us that Nicias assisted Praxiteles in statuis circumlinendis,
that is, covering marble statues with a sort of encaustic varnish, by which a beautifully smooth and tinted surface was given to them (see Dict. of Antiq.
PAINTING, § viii.). Now Praxiteles flourished in the 104th Olympiad, B. C. 364-360. We must therefore either suppose that Nicias thus painted the statues of Praxiteles a considerable time after they were made, which is not very probable in itself, and is opposed to Pliny's statement; or else that Pliny has confounded two different artists, indeed he himself suggests that there may have been two artists of the name. (See Sillig, Catal. Artif. s. v.
) But, plausible as this argument is, it is not conclusive, for the division of a master and pupil by seven or eight Olympiads is an arbitrary assumption.
A pupil may be, and often is, nearly the same age as his teacher, and sometimes even older. Again, Pliny's dates are very loosely given; we can never tell with certainty whether they are meant to mark the early or the middle or the latter part of an artist's career.
In the case of Praxiteles, we know that he executed great works considerably later than the date assigned by Pliny. Supposing then that Nicias, as a young man. assisted Praxiteles when in the height of his fame (and it is not likely that Nicias would have been so employed after he had obtained an independent reputation), and that his refusal to sell his picture to Ptolemy occurred when he was old, and had gained both reputation and wealth enough, there remains no positive anachronism in supposing only one artist of this name.
Nicias was the most celebrated disciple of Euphranor.
He was extremely skilful in painting female figures, careful in his management of light and shade, and in making his figures stand out of the picture (Plin. l.c.
The following works of his are enumerated by Pliny (l.c.
) : they seem to have been all painted in encaustic.
A painting of Nemea, sitting on a lion, holding a palm in her hand, with an old man standing by with a staff, over whose head was a picture of a biga.
This last point is not very intelligible; Lessing has endeavoured to clear it up (Laocoön,
p. 280, note): Nicias placed on this picture the inscription, Νικίας ἐνἐκανδεν
: the picture was carried from Asia to Rome by Silanus, and Augustns had it fastened into the wall of the curia which he dedicated in the comitium (Plin. Nat. 35.4. s. 10
). Father Liber in the temple of Concord. A Hyacinthus, painted as a beautiful youth, to signify the love of Apollo for him (comp. Paus. 3.19.4
); Augustus was so delighted with the picture that he carried it to Rome after the taking of Alexandria, and Tiberius dedicated it in the temple of Augustus. A Diana, probably at Ephesus, as Pliny mentions in immediate connection with it the sepulchre of Megabyzus, the priest of Diana, at Ephesus, as painted by Nicias. Lastly, what appears to have been his master-piece, a representation of the infernal regions as described by Homer (Νεκυία
, Necromantia Homeri);
this was the picture which Nicias refused to sell to Ptolemy, athough the price offered for it was sixty talents (Plutarch, loc. sup. cit.
): Pliny tells the same story of Attalus, which is a manifest anachronism. Plutarch also tells that Nicias was so absorbed in the work during its progress, that he used often to have to ask his servants whether he had dined. From the above pictures, Pliny distinguishes the following as grandes picturas:
Calypso, Io, Andromeda, an admirable Alexander (Paris), and a sitting Calypso, in the porticoes of Pompey. Some pictures of animals were attributed to him: he was particularly happy in painting doges.
) gives a full description of his paintings in a tomb outside Tritaea in Achaea.
There is an interesting passage in Demetrius Phalereus (Eloc.
76), giving the opinion of Nicias respecting the art of painting, in which he insists on the importance of choosing subjects of some magnitude, and not throwing away skill and labour on minute objects, such as birds and flowers.
The proper subjects for a painter, he says, are battles both on land and on sea; in which the various attitudes and expressions of horses and of men afford rich materials for the painter: the subject of the action was, he thought, as important a part of painting as the story or plot was of poetry.
Nicias was the first painter who used burnt ochre, the discovery of which was owing to an accident (Plin. Nat. 35.6.20
He had a disciple, Omphalion, who was formerly his slave and favourite (Paus. 4.31.9
He himself was buried at Athens, by the road leading to the academy (Paus. 1.29.15