Zeuxis. A celebrated Greek painter of the Ionic School, a contemporary of Parrhasius; he was a native of Heraclea in South Italy, and lived till about B.C. 400 at different places in Greece, at last, as it appears, settling in Ephesus. According to the accounts of his works which have been preserved, in contrast to the great mural painter, Polygnotus, he especially devoted himself to painting on panels. He endeavoured above all things to make his subjects attractive by investing them with the charm of novelty and grace. He also has the merit of having further improved the distribution of light and shade, introduced by his elder contemporaries. Especially celebrated was his picture of Helen, painted for the temple of Here on the Lacinian promontory. He aimed at the highest degree of illusion. As is well known, he is said to have painted grapes so naturally that the birds flew to peck at them.
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
Chief of the successors of Apollodorus of Athens was Zeuxis of Heraclea. Of the
many towns of this name, we cannot be sure which one is meant. Most critics have
explained it as the town in Lucania, on account of the subsequent connexion of
Zeuxis with that region, the pictures he painted for Agrigentum and Kroton, and
because his teacher is named Damophilus of Himera. Klein, however, points out
that this Heraclea was not founded until B.C. 432, whereas Aristophanes already
in the Acharnians (l. 991) names a picture by Zeuxis; the date of this play is
B.C. 426, so that the picture mentioned must have been painted in the seventh
year of his age. Klein thinks that the Heraclea in Pontus is referred to, the
Heraclea par excellence, and that would account for his being taught by a Thasian,
Neseas. At any rate, he came early to Athens, and Xenophon tells us of the warm
interest which Socrates felt in the young artist. In the Protagoras of Plato he
is spoken of as a neaniskos, just arrived at Athens from Heraclea; this would
give us a date for the youth of Zeuxis as between Ol. 89-90 (B.C. 424-417). Pliny,
following some chronological authority, says that Zeuxis entered the doors of
art which had been opened by Apollodorus in Ol. 95. 4; . . . others assert falsely
Ol. 89. It is evident at any rate that he belongs to the last years of the fifth
and beginning of the fourth century. That he adopted and extended the improved
methods of Apollodorus is evident; and that he won for his art a social standing
far above what had hitherto been attained, is shown by the anecdotes recorded
of him: how that he gave away his works as being beyond all price (usually, it
is true, to the most influential patrons); how he composed an epigram momesetai
tis mallon e mimesetai,, easier to carp than to copy; and how he acquired so much
wealth ut in ostentatione earum (opum) Olympiae aureis litteris in palliorum tesseris
intextum nomen suum ostentaret. This has usually been explained as implying that
Zeuxis wore at Olympia a robe in which his name was woven in gold letters. Such
an interpretation involves a difficulty, both in the ablative ostentatione of
the MSS. (which must then be altered to the accusative), and also in the plural
palliorum. Klein?s explanation gets rid of this difficulty: Zeuxis really exhibited
his treasures at Olympia, and the pallia allude to the curtains hung in front
of his pictures there. That curtains were thus used is shown by the well-known
story of the curtain painted by Parrhasius, and by the passage in Lucian where
Zeuxis, indignant at the dull comprehension of his picture by the public, tells
Miccion his pupil to draw the curtain over it (peribale ede ten eikona).
Of the style of Zeuxis we have one excellent criterion in the detailed description of one of his paintings by Lucian, a Centauress nursing her young upon a meadow: the Centaur, half seen upon an elevation overlooking the scene, looks smilingly down, holding in his right hand, up-lifted above his head, a lion cub to frighten the children. Two monuments have come down to us, which, though they do not bear out the actual words of this passage, yet seem undoubtedly inspired by the style of Zeuxis, and possibly by some such picture. The one, a Centauress suckling her young, is known only from the description of Philostratus, ii. 3; the other is a fine mosaic of the Alexandrine time from the villa of Hadrian (Mon. iv. 50). This also represents a scene from Centaur life, but in this case we have, as it were, the antithesis of Zeuxis' picture: a lion and tiger have overthrown and killed the Centauress; the Centaur, rushing up, has killed the lion, and swings over his head with both hands a mass of rock to strike the tiger which growls over its victim. On a rocky ledge above the scene on the left is a second tiger couched ready to spring. The mixture of idyllic and heroic motive combined in these pictures, in a strikingly novel situation, corresponds perfectly with what we can otherwise gather of the method of Zeuxis.
The most famous perhaps of his paintings was the Helena, executed for the temple of Hera Lakinia at Croton; in Cicero's time this picture was in Rome. Urlichs thinks that Pyrrhus must have removed it from Croton to Ambracia, that Fulvius Nobilior brought it thence to Rome (cf. Pliny, xxxv. § 66), and that it was removed from the temple of Hercules there by Philippus, and placed in the colonnade (porticus) built by him, where in Pliny's time it still was standing. In Cicero (de Invent. ii. 1, 1) we have the story in full Zeuxis wished to paint a consummate picture, [p. 411] and asked the: Crotoniates for the five most beautiful of their maidens, in order that he might combine the fairest qualities of each in his picture. Like Rosalind, his Helena
"of many parts By heavenly synod was devised; Of many faces, eyes and hearts, To have the toufches dearest prized."
He was therefore allowed to choose out of all the maidens the five whose names, Cicero says, many poets have handed down to memory. In Cicero's account there are apparently two versions combined; in the one case Zeuxis inspects all the maidens, in the other he only sees their brothers in the palaestra. Probably both stories are legendary. Klein suggests that they may have arisen in. this way. We cannot, he says, suppose that the. Helena picture was a solitary figure; no one. woman, however composed, could represent her adequately to the Greek mind; iii the Iliupersis of Polygnotus Helena is accompanied by five women (Pans. x. 25, 4); and on a vase-painting from Kertch, which is certainly influenced by the style of Zeuxis (Compte Rendu, 1861, pl. v. 1), we have a representation of her among her women, who are drawn in various stages of nudity. If we imagine some such picture painted for the people of Croton, if we think of names written over the figures of the maidens, if we conceive them clothed as in the Kertch vase, we have the elements together of which the Crotoniate legend might be, I might almost say, must be, composed.
It seems certain that there existed a second Helena by Zeuxis, which stood in the Corn Exchange (stoa alphiton) at Athens (Eustath. ad Il. p. 868, 37); and it is difficult to say to which of the two some of the references in literature, which are not distinctly specified, apply. It was doubtless the Athenian picture which was exhibited for gate-money, and which therefore received the nickname Hetaira: such an exhibition would certainly be better suited to a stoa than to a temple; and it was this to which Plutarch and Aelian must allude in the anecdote of the carping critic who did not admire the picture, and was set down by the reply of Nicomachus, Take my eyes, and the godhead will be manifested to you. Brunn suggests that the Athenian picture was a copy, or else a replica by Zeuxis of the original at Croton; at any rate we have no means of deciding whether it was different in any particular.
In Pliny, xxxv. §162, an Alcmene is mentioned which the artist gave to the people of Agrigentum; and an Infant Heracles strangling the Snakes. Most critics had been led to make two distinct pictures out of this sentence, especially on the strength of a Pompeian painting of the latter subject (Arch. Zeit. 1868, Taf. 4). The question seems to be finally settled, however, by a vase-painting recently acquired by the British Museum (see Murray in the Classical Review, 1888, p. 327), which represents the infants and snakes, the Zeus (magnificus Juppiter), the assembly of gods (adstantibus dis), and the Alcmene who throws one arm around the neck of Zeus and with the other points vigorously down to the scene below, an action which may well correspond with the matre pavente of Pliny. The magnificus Juppiter in throno at, first sounds out of keeping with the homely natural touch of Zeuxis; but in the vase-painting the Olympus is treated with just this absence of stiffness which we may well imagine is inspired by the painting of Zeuxis.
From other pictures mentioned as of Zeuxis, the Pan, Marsyas, and Eros crowned with roses, Brunn seeks to show that his easel pictures seem to have been confined to a few figures and isolated situations. But there is nothing to prove that these figures are not merely extracts from larger subjects; and this would suit better the method of the artist as we know it from the few pictures already identified, and also the vase-paintings of the time, in which as a rule preference is shown for elaborate compositions. When Zeuxis first reached Athens, the traditions of Polygnotus were giving place to the more purely pictorial technique of Apollodorus; to an imaginative genius such as his, a new world of art was disclosing itself; it was natural that he should open up new paths, new ways of looking at the real and at the unreal. Lucian says that he did not paint ta demode kai ta koina panta, such as his predecessors had done, heroes, or gods, or wars, but was always trying some new creation, aei de kainopoiein epeirato. Aristotle sets him up as an instance of the pithanon adunaton: the old fantastic creations of mythology, which had existed as little more than abstract ideas either in poetry or in art, have henceforward imparted to them a new life of their own; the same idyllic treatment will soon be applied to the world of gods as of men; and in Zeuxis we see already the germ of the ideas which are later; to blossom out into the art of the Alexandrine age.
Beside the other painted works of Zeuxis, Pliny mentions specimens of his work in two other classes of art: his monochromata ex albo, which probably simply means pictures from which the colours had perished, leaving only the outlines sketched in; the same mistake had been made in modern times. At Herculaneum were found a series of drawings in red upon stone, the finest of which is signed by Alexander, an Athenian. It was always supposed that these represented a special technique, but in 1872 a similar slab was found at Pompeii, which showed within red outlines the perfectly distinct remains of a complete painting in colours: these colours have since almost entirely vanished. Besides these monochromata, Pliny also mentions certain plastic works of Zeuxis (figlina opera), which were alone left behind in Ambracia when Fulvius transferred the other art treasures thence to Rome (cf. Liv. xxxviii. 9, and xxxix. 5). Klein: thinks, that these were probably paintings on terra-cotta slabs, let into the wall, and therefore difficult to remove. They may have been, like the picture of Pan, painted for the decoration of the palace of Archelaus at Pella, and taken by Pyrrhus to Ambracia when he became master of Macedonia.
This extract is from: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890) (eds. William Smith, LLD, William Wayte, G. E. Marindin). Cited July 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
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