previous next

Proto'genes

Πρωτογένης), artists.

1. One of the most celebrated Greek painters, lived at the period of the greatest perfection of the art, and was contemporary with Apelles, about Ol. 112, B. C. 332. Almost all we know of him is contained in a passage of Pliny, the text of which is very much corrupted, yet not so as to affect any essential point in the history of the artist or his works. (Plin. Nat. 35.10. s. 36.20.)

Protogenes was a native of Caunus, in Caria, a city subject to the Rhodians. 1 (Comp. Paus. 1.3.4; Plut. Demctr. 22 : Suidas makes him a native of Xanthus, in Lycia, s. v.) He resided at Rhodes almost entirely; the only other city of Greece which he is said to have visited is Athens, where he executed one of his great works in the Propylaea. He appears to have been one of those men, who, combining the highest genius with modesty and contentment, only obtain by the exertions of generous friends the reputation which they have earned by their own merits. Up to his fiftieth ear he is said to have lived in poverty and ia comparative obscurity, supporting himself by painting ships, which at that period used to be decorated with elaborate pictorial devices. His fame had, however, reached the ears of Apelles, who, upon visiting Rhodes, made it his first business to seek out Protogenes. The interesting trial of skill, by which the two artists introduced themselves to each other, as been related under APELLES. As thle stirest way of mimaking the mits of Protogenes known to his fellomv-citizenis, Apelles offered him, for his finished works, on which Protogenes himself had set a very insignificant price, the enormous sum of fifty talents apiece (quinquagenis talentis), at the same time spreading the report, that he intended to sell the pictures as his own. The Rhodians were thus roused to an understanding of what an artist they had among them; and Apelles at once continurmed thie impression, and made those who were anxious to retain such valuable works in their country pay for their previous indifference, by refusing to part with them except for an advanced price. (Plim. l.c. § 13.)

We possess the record of another interesting scene in the artist's tranquil life. When Demetrius Poliorcetes was using every effort to subdue Rhodes, he refrained from attacking the city at its most vulnerable point, lest he should injure the masterpiece of Protogenes, his Ialysus, which had been placed in that quarter; and he also paid the most flattering attentions to the artist himself. Protogenes, who was residing in his suburban cottage (compp. l.c. s. 37: casula Protogenes contents est in hortulo suo) amidst the very camp of Demetrius, when the hostilities commenced, proceeded in his works with his usual steady perseverance, and, on the king's sending for him and asking how he could be so bold as to live and work without the walls, he replied, that he knew that the king was at war with the Rhodians, but not with the arts. His confidence had its reward. Demetrius stationed guards about his house, to preserve him from injury; and, instead of calling him away from his work to play the courtier, he himself withdrew from the military cares on which he was so intent, to visit the artist in his studio, and stood watching his work surrounded by the din of arms and the thunder of the battering engines. In the honourable tranquillity thus secured to him during this year of tumult, Protogenes completed one of his most celebrated works. (Plin. l.c. ; comp. 7.38. s. 39.)

This form of the story is not only the most interesting, but at least as credible as any other, since Pliny doubtless copied it from some old Greek writer upon art. According to Plutarch (Plut. Demetr. 22, Reg. et Imp. Apophth. p. 183b.) the picture on which Protogenes was engaged in his suburban residence, was the Ialysus itself; and the Rhodians, alarmed for the safety of the unfinished work, sent heralds to Demetrius, to entreat him to spare it, to whom Demetrius replied, that he would rather destroy the images of his father than that picture. Aults Gellius (15.3) gives still another, and the least probable version of the story. (See also Suid. s. v.

Front this story it appears that Protogenes lived at least down to B. C. 303; and, connecting this with the statement that he was fifty years old before he attained to wealth and high reputation, the conjecture of Meyer (Gesch. d. bild. Künst, vol. i. p. 189), that he was born about Ol. 104, is not improbable. Müller gives Ol. 112-120, B. C. 332-300, as the time during which he flourished.

Protogenes belongs to the number of self-taught artists; at least in so far as this, that he owed comparatively nothing of his merits or reputation to whatever instruction he may have received. The name of his teacher was unknown; and the obscurity in which he so long lived is a proof that he had none of the prestige which attaches to the pupils of a celebrated school. His disadvantages in this respect he labored to counteract by the most unwearied diligence. In characterizing the several painters of the period of the perfection of the art, Quintilian mentions Protogenes as excelling the rest in the care with which he wrought up his pictures (12.10.6). On his most celebrated picture he is said to have spent seven years, or even, according to another statement, eleven; and to have paiated it four times over (Plin. l.c. ; Aelian, 12.41; Fronto, 11). In the opinion of Apelles, he carried this elaboration of his works to a fault, as we learn from an interesting story which is told, with some variations, by Pliny, Aelian, and Plutarch, respecting the criticisms of Apelles on the work just referred to, the Ialysus of Protogenes. On first beholding the picture, Apelles stood in silent admiration; and presently he remarked that the work and the artist were alike great, and that Protogenes was in every respect equal to himself or even superior, with the exception of two points, the one, that he did not know when to take his hand off his picture, the other, that he was deficient in that peculiar grace which Apelles always claimed as the one great quality by which he himself excelled all other artists (Plin. l.c. § 10; Plut. Demetr. 22; Aelian, l.c. ; comp. Cic. Orat. 22). Several passages might be quoted to prove the high esteem in which Protogenes was held by the ancients. That truth to nature, which in various degrees characterized the works of all the great artists of the age, was so conspicuous in his, that Petronius speaks of them as vying in truth with nature herself (Sut. 84). Cicero mentions him as one of the painters whose works were perfect in every respect. (Brut. 18; see also Varro, L. L. ix 12, ed. Müller; Colum. R. R. i. praef. § 31.)

The number of the works of Protogenes was comparatively small, as Pliny remarks, on account of the labour he bestowed upon each of them. His master-piece was the picture of Ialysus, the tutelary hero of Rhodes, to which reference has already been made. If we may believe the anecdote preserved by Pliny, the artist lived, during all the years he was engaged on this picture, upon moistened lupines, in order that he might just satisfy the cravings of hunger and thirst, without subjecting himself to any sensation of corporeal pleasure which might interfere with the devotion of his whole faculties to the work. The same writer informs us that Protogenes painted this picture over four several times, as a precaution against damage and decay, so that, if one surface should be removed, another might appear from beneath it. Nearly all modern artists treat this reason as absurd, and explain the fact mentioned by Pliny, supposing it to be correct, simply as an example of the artist's elaborate finish. Very possibly the statement may be a conjecture of Pliny's own, founded upon the appearance presented by some parts of the picture, where the colour had peeled off. Another of Pliny's stories about the picture relates to the accidental production of one of the most effective parts of it, the foam at the mouth of a tired hound. The artist, he tells us, dissatisfied with his repeated attempts to produce the desired effect, at last, in his vexation, dashed the sponge, with which he had repeatedly effaced his work, against the faulty place; and the sponge, charged as it was by repeated use with the necessary colours, left a mark in which the painter recognised the very foam which his art had failed to produce. Amidst all this truly Plinian gossip about the picture, we are left in profound ignorance of its composition : all that is clear is, that the hero was represented either as hunting, or as returning or just returned from the chase. It was, no doubt, dedicated in the temple of lalysus at Rhodes, where it escaped destruction in the siege by Demetrius, as allove related, and where it was seen by Cicero (Orat. 2), who again refers to it in a manner which perhaps implies that it had suffered from neglect (ad Att. 2.21: we say perhaps, because the sentence is merely hypothetical). He also mentions it in his enumeration of the chief works of art existing in his time (in Verr. 4.60). In the time of Strabo it was still at Rhodes (xiv. p. 652); but, when Pliny wrote, it had been carried to Rome, where it formed part of the rich collection in. the temple of Peace. Suidas (s. v.) mentions the picture as a strange and wonderful work, but appears to have mistaken the hero Ialysus for Dionysus (the reading however is doubtful).

His next most famous picture was that which Pliny tells us he painted during the siege of Rhodes, and to which, from that circumstance, a peculiar interest was attached (Sequiturque tabulam ejus temporis haec fama, quod eam Protoyenes sub gladio pinxerit). Its subject was a satyr resting (quem Anapauomnenon vocant), and still holding the pipes; a subject strikingly similar to the celebrated Satyr of Praxiteles, though, of course, treated differently in the two different departments of art. This picture was still at Rhodes in the time of Strabo, who mentions it and the Ialysus, and the Colossus, as the most remarkable objects at that place (l.c.). The Satyr (Strabo tells us) was leaning against a column, upon which the artist had originally painted a partridge sitting; but the people, who flocked to see the picture, were so struck with the perfectlynatural appearance of the bird that they entirely overlooked the principal figure; and, to make matters worse, the bird-keepers brought tame partridges, which were no sooner placed opposite the picture than they began to chirp at the painted bird, thinking it alive, to the unbounded delight of the multitude. On this, Protogenes, feeling that his labour was lost (ὁρῶν τὸ ἔργον πάρεργον γέγονος), obtained permission from the keepers of the temple, and obliterated the partridge from the picture.

Another celebrated work of Protogenes was that in the Propylaea of the Acropolis of Athens, which Pliny thus describes: nobilem Paralum et Ammoniada, quam quidlamr Ncusicaam vocat. The Paralus, as is well known, was one of the two sacred ships of the Athenians, to which, at a later period, three more were added, of which one was the Ammonias, that is, the vessel in which offerings were sent to Jupiter Ammon. Thus much is clear; but how these vessels were represented, whether each formed a separate picture, or the two were combined in one composition, and what we are to understand by the phrase, quam quidam Nausicaam vocant, that is, what the ship Ammonias (or the picture of both ships) had to do with Nausicaa and the island of the Phaeacians,--are questions extremely difficult to solve. Pausanias, indeed, tells us (1.22.6) that one of the paintings in the Propylaea represented Nausicaa and her maidens bathing, with Ulysses near them, as described by Homer (Od. vi. init.); but he ascribes the picture to Polygnotus, and says not a word of the sacred ships. The only escape yet suggested from this labyrinth of confusion, is by following the clue furnished by the conjecture of Ottfried Müller (Arch. d. Künst, Nachträge, p. 707, 2d ed.), that, instead of carrying on the nominative Πολύγνωτος in the passage of Pausanias, we should insert Πρωτογένης after ἔγραψε δὲ καὶ, so as to make him, and not Polygnotus, the painter of the picture which Pausanias describes as that of Nausicaa ; and further, that the very subject of the painting was disputed among the ancients themselves, "some," as Pliny says, "taking it for Nausicaa," among whom was Pausanias; and others, of whom Pliny himself was one, regarding it as the representation of some harbour, into which the ships Paralus and Ammonias were sailing. According to this view the group which Pausanias took for Nausicaa and her companions may be explained as a group of maidens celebrating the festival of the god to whom the sacred vessels are bringing their offerings. This painting is also mentioned by Cicero, like the Ialysus, as one of the greatest works in existence, but he does not mention the artist's name (in Verr. l.c.). Pliny tells us that Protogenes, in memory of his former circumstances, added to this picture some little ships of war, as additional ornaments or bordering (parerga).

Another picture, which Protogenes painted at Athens, was that of the Thesmothetae, in the senate-house of the Five Hundred (Paus. 1.3.4).

The other works of Protogenes, in the list of Pliny, are Cydippe, Tlepolemus, the tragic poet Philiscus meditating [PHILISCUS], an athlete, king Antigonus, and the mother of Aristotle. Pliny adds that the great philosopher advised the artist to paint Alexander "propter aeternitatem rcrum ;" but that his own taste and the impulse of his genius carried him to other subjects, so that there was only one of his pictures, and that the last, in which the Macedonian conqueror appeared: this composition is called by Pliny Alexander and Pan.

In the enumeration of his works, that celebrated panel must not be forgotten, which, in its three simple lines, presented the memorial of the celebrated contest between Apelles and Protogenes, and excited more admiration than the great works of art near which it was preserved at Rome. To what has been said on this subject under APELLES, it need only be added that the words of Pliny, who had seen the picture (and that, no doubt, repeatedly). evidently describe mere lines drawn right across the panel (per tabulalm); and even writers who object to such a display, as not even within the province of painting, and who seek for other ingenious and elaborate interpretations (such as that the three lines were three outlines of figures or limbs), are found to admit, not only that the notion of their being three simple lines is the only one countenanced by the text of Pliny (who, we repeat, saw the picture), but also that this feat, though merely manual, was all the greater and more wonderful, on account of their being mere lines of excessive thinness, the one within the other, from the extraordinary command of the instrument, and precision of eye and hand which such a feat supposes. Let it be remembered also, how great was the importance which the ancients rightly attached to accurate drawing ; and, we would add, let those who sneer at the performance attempt to reproduce it.

Protogenes excelled also as a statuary (Plin. l.c.), though none of his works are individually specified: Pliny only mentions him among the artists who made, in bronze, athletas et armatos et venatores sacrificantensque (H. N. 34.8, 19.34).


Works

According to Suidas, Protogenes wrote two works on art, namely, Περὶ γραφικῆς καὶ σχηματων βιβλία β᾽.

1 * The words of Piiny, gentis Rhodiis subjectae, which have given the critics much trouble, are now established as the true reading by the authority of the Bamber MS., confirmed by historical testimonies as to the matter of fact. (See Janus's collation of the Bamberg MS. appended to Sillig's edition of Pliny.)

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
332 BC (2)
303 BC (1)
300 BC (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: