Slander in art
Year mention: 1617
Allegory of Calumny ; Apelles
Sacred vs. profane imagery

Calumny of Apelles can instruct Christians about good moral behaviour

Molanus, Johannes
Nicolá da Urbino (ascribed to), Dish with the story of Apelles ca. 1520 - ca. 1525
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam,

Molanus criticises the ease with which slander is believed and argues that art can instruct Christians about good moral behaviour, as the Calumny of Apelles demonstrates.

“Let us add something about slander and the ease with which it is believed. This comment by Abbé Bernard is fraught with meaning: The complicity in credulity has more cunning than a fox, so much so that I have not met anyone among the great who has ever been sufficiently wary of its tricks. This is why people often get into trouble for nothing, frequently condemn the innocent, and commit denials of justice against the absent. Apelles, the most famous painter of Ephesus, learned this the hard way because he was accused of treason by a rival jealous of his art to King Ptolemy. The king immediately laughed at the charge of treason, ingratitude, lèse-majesté, treachery, and conspiracy, and he would have immediately made the guilty party disappear by subjecting him to the capital punishment promised to the cursed Tyrian conspirators, if one of the latter, under arrest, had not proved that Apelles was not involved in the rebellion. Then Ptolemy, coming to his senses, changed his verdict: he gave a hundred talents to the painter and, reducing Amphilus the slanderer to slavery, he added him to the present. Apelles only wanted to frame this calumny with an image in which Calumny, all seduction, holds out her hand to a person of high rank and swears immortal faith to him, while the latter, as she comes to him, holds out her hand to him, symbolically inclining towards her ears which are growing longer. Her companions are evil women: Ignorance, Suspicion, Mischief and Deception. Jealousy precedes her, a blond man with a dull gaze, like someone pretending to have a malignant disease. Behind him follows Penitence, who, turning his head away in tears and shame, waits for the Truth to come in the distance. We read all this in Lucian, a man who was in other respects barbaric. Let us hope that Christians who are inclined to slander or who are too willing to lend a hand will be instructed by this image.”

“Addam aliquid de calumnia et credendi facilitate, gravissima est Bernardi Abbatis sententia, facilitatem credulitatis esse callidissimam vulpeculum, cuius magnorum neminem satis compertum sit cavisse versutias. Unde de nihilo irae multae, unde innocentium frequens addiction, unde praeiudicia in absentes. Didicit id Apelles Ephesiorum celeberrimus pictor, per artis suae aemulum apud Ptolomaeum regem coniurationis in Tyro facte accusatus Mox enim perfidum eum Rex clamavit, ingratum, reum violatae maiestatis, insidiatorem, coniuratum et statim Tyriorum malorum poenam capite multatus soluisset, nisi quidam e coniurationis sociis captus, nihil ei commune cum seditiosis fuisse probasset. Tum Ptolomeus collecto animo sententiam mutavit et Apellem donavit centum talentis addito in servitutem Antiphilo calumniatore. Verum Apelles calumniam illam sola imagine puniri voluit, in qua calumnia eximie comta, manus ad superos tendens, fidem immortalium obtestatur et adit quempiam auribus praelongis insignem, qui manus porrigat procul accedenti calumniae. Habet ipsa comites mulierculas Ignorantiam, Suspicionem, Insidias ac Fallaciam. Anteit eam Livor, vir pallidus, acie oculorum minime heberi ceterum plane iis similis qui sontico aliquomorbo cantabuerunt. At ergo subsequitur poenitentia, quae capite in tergum deflexo cum lachrymis et pudore procul venientem excipit Veritatem. Et haec apud Lucianum. Utinam autem Christiani quidam ad calumnias excipiendas, aut struendas nimis proni, faltem per hanc imaginem erudirentur.”

Quoted Authorities

St. Bernard, De consideratione, book 2, ch. 14.

Date mention

Historical Location

Iconclass Number

Molanus, De historia sanctarum imaginum et picturarum (1617), book 2, ch. 60, 207-208

Molanus 1996, 302.

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