), one of the most celebrated Greek painters, was a native of Ephesus, the son and pupil of Evenor (Paus. 1.28.2
; Strab. xiv. p.642
; Harpoer. s. r.
) He belonged, therefore, to the Ionic school; but he practised his art chiefly at Athens: and by some writers he is called an Athenian, probably because the Athenians, who, as Plutarch informs him, held him in high honour, had bestowed upon him the right of citizenship (Senec. Controv.
5.10; Acro, Schol. ad Hor. Carm. 4.8
; Plut. This.
4; Junius, Catal. Artif. s. v.
With respect to the time at which he flourished, there has been some doubt, arising from a story told by Seneca (l.c.
), which, if true, would bring down his time as late as the taking of Olynthus by Philip, in Ol. 108, 2, or B. C. 347.
But this tale has quite the air of a fiction; and it is rejected, as unworthy of attention, by all the authorities except Sillig and Meyer, the latter of whom makes the extraordinary mistake of bringing down the life of Parrhasius as late as the time of Alexander the Great. On the other hand, the statement of Pausanias (1.28.2
), that he drew the outlines of the chasing on the shield of Pheidias's statue of Athena Promachus, would place him as early as Ol. 84, or B. C. 444, unless we accept the somewhat improbable conjecture of Müller, that the chasing on the shield was executed several years later than the statue. (Comp. MYS, and Sillig, Catal. Artif. s. v. Mys.
) Now this date is probably too early, for Pliny places Parrhasius's father, Evenor, at the 90th Olympiad, B. C. 420 (H. N.
35.9. s. 36.1).
According to thils date Parrhasius himself must have flourished about the 95th Olympiad, B. C. 400, which agrees with all the certain, indications which we have of his time, such as his conversation with Socrates (Xen. Mem. 3.10
), and his being a younger contemporary of Zeuxis: the date just given must, however, be taken as referring rather to a late than to an early period of his artistic career; for he had evidently obtained a high reputation before the death of Socrates in B. C. 399.
Parrhasius belongs to that period of the history of Greek painting, in which the art may be said to have reached perfection in all its essential elements, though there was still room left for the display of higher excellence than any individual painter had yet attained, by the genius of an Apelles.
The peculiar merits of Parrhasius consisted, according to Pliny, in accuracy of drawing, truth of proportion, and power of expression. "He first (or above all) gave to painting true proportions (symmetriam
), the minute details of the countenance, the elegance of the hair, the beauty of the face, and by the confession of artists themselves obtained the palm in his drawing of the extremities." (Plin. Nat. 35.9. s. 36.5
.) His outlines, according to the same writer, were so perfect, as to indicate those parts of the figure which they did not express.
The intermediate parts of his figures seemed inferior, but only when compared with his own perfect execution of the extremities.
Parrhasius did for painting, at least in pictures of gods and heroes, what had been done for sculpture by Pheidias in divine subjects, and by Polycleitus in the human figure: he established a canon of proportion, which was followed by all the artists that came after him. Hence Quintilian (12.10) calls him the legislator of his art; and it is no doubt to this that Pliny refers in the words of the above quotation (primus symmetriam picturae dedit
). Several interesting observations on the principles of art which he followed are made in the dialogue in the Memorabilia,
already referred to.
The character of Parrhasius was marked in the highest degree by that arrogance which often accompanies the consciousness of pre-eminent ability: "Quo nemo insolentius sit usus gloria artis,
" says Pliny.
In epigrams inscribed on his works he not only made a boast of his luxurious habits, calling himself Ἁβροδιαιτος
, but he also claimed the honour of having assigned with his own hand the precise limits of the art, and fixed a boundary which was never to be transgressed. (See the Epigrams in Ath. xii. p. 543d.) he claimed a divine origin and divine communications, calling himself the descendant of Apollo, and professing to have painted his Hercules, which was preserved at Lindus, from the form of the god, as often seen by him in sleep. When conquered by Timanthes in a trial of skill, in which the subject was the contest for the arms of Achilles, he observed that for himself he thought little of it, but that he sympathised with Ajax, who was a second time overcome by the less worthy. (Plin. l.c.
; Aelian. V.H.
9.11; Eustath. ad Hom. Od.
11.545.) Further details of his arrogance and luxury will be found in the above passages and in Ath. xv. p. (687, B. C. Respecting the story of his contest with Zeuxis, see ZEUXIS. The numerous encomiums upon his works in the writings of the ancients are collected by Junius and Sillig.
Of the works of Parrhasius mentioned by Pliny, the most celebrated seems to have been his picture of the Athenian People, respecting which the commentators have been sorely puzzled to imagine how he could have exhibited all the qualities enumerated by Pliny as belonging to his subject--"debebat namque varium, iracundum, injustum, inconstantem, eundem exorabilem, clementem, misericordem, gloriosum, excelsum, humilem, ferocem, fugacemque, et omnia pariter ostendere :" as to how all these qualities were expressed Pliny gives us no more information than is contained in the words aryumento ingenioso.
Some writers suppose that the picture was a group, or that it consisted of several groups; others that it was a single figure; and Quatremère de Quincy has put forth the ingeniously absurd hypothesis, that the picture was merely that of an owl, as the symbol of Athens, with many heads of different animals, as the symbols of the qualities enumerated by Pliny !
The truth seems to be that Pliny's words do not describe the picture,
but its subject;
the word debebat
indicates as much: the picture he does not appear to have seen; but the character of the personified Demos was to be found in the Knights
of Aristophanes, and in the writings of many other authors; and Pliny's words seem to express his admiration of the art which could have given anything like a pictorial representation of such
a character. Possibly, too, the passage is merely copied from the unmeaning exaggeration of some sophist.
Another famous picture was his Theseus, which was preserved in the Capitol, and which appears to have been the picture which embodied the canon
of painting referred to above, as the Doryphorus of Polycleitus embodied that of sculpture.
This work, however, which was the masterpiece of Ionian
art, did not fully satisfy the severer taste of the Helladic school, as we learn from the criticism of Enphranor, who said that the Theseus of Parrhasius had fed upon roses, but his own upon beef. (Plut. de Glor. Ath.
The works of Parrhasius were not all, however, of this elevated character.
He painted libidinous pictures, such as the Archigallus, and Meleager and Atalanta, which afterwards gratified the prurient taste of Tiberius (Plin. l.c.
; Suet. Tib.
A few others of his pictures, chiefly mythological, are enumerated by Pliny, front whom we also learn that tablets and parchments were preserved, on which were the valuable outline drawings of the great artist.
He is enumerated among the great painters who wrote upon their art.