Zeuxis and Parrhasius, Pliny the Elder, Roman Painting – Coloring the Past (73)

Trompe-l'Oeil Still Life with a Flower Garland and a Curtain
Adriaen van der Spelt and Frans van Mieris, Trompe-l’Oeil Still Life with a Flower Garland and a Curtain, 1658, Art Institute of Chicago (1949.585)

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Pliny the Elder shares with us the tale of dueling artists Zeuxis and Parrhasius as they battled for the title of who could paint a more beguilingly realistic trompe-l’oeil (“fools the eye”) masterpiece. We also hear another short story of Zeuxis’s dashed pride.

This recording comes complete with all the juicy, unscripted, live-action museum gallery accents of noisy kids, beeping proximity alarms, and echoing reverb. Please forgive the poor sound quality.

One Reply to “Zeuxis and Parrhasius, Pliny the Elder, Roman Painting – Coloring the Past (73)”

  1. This story I read in our English text book in tenth standard. As far as I remember the painting contest was added in the ancient Olympic Games along with other athletic competition to determine the greater artist. A grand hall was assigned as the venue to perform the contest. Prominent judges were appointed and the time was scheduled. In due time the Olympic Games commenced. A charm drew near. The jury, participants and a large number of crowd assembled at the stage. The participants were asked to bring each one of their life’s master piece. As per schedule time the spoke person of the jury first asked Zeuxis to unveil the curtain from his painting to see what he has done. As per instructions Zeuxis removed the curtain from his painting. With penetrating gaze the jury and the audience could gasped to see a cluster of grapes so naturally depicted . After a long silence a flock of birds flew down and tried to peck at the picture. The exceptional sight mesmerized the audience and started cheering. Every one thought surely Zeuxis will be the winner. As time passed by the jury now asked Parrhasius to unveil the curtain from his painting. Parrhasius replied with a adamant will, his voice was calm and his face was fixed like steel, he said, it can’t be. The jury and audience guessed Parrhasius is broken as he is very close to the defeat. To hasten the blow Zeuxis said with soft and sweet voice, we would love to see your master piece. Coud you honour us by unveiling the curtain from your painting . Parrhasius with a stead fast eyes said, you are looking at it. Almost every one present over there got fed up by his abnormal behaviour. After a long silence Parrhasius said, if you like to try an impossible thing you are welcome. When Zeuxis tried to remove the curtain he got astonished to realize that it was not a curtain but a painting of a curtain. He felt himself to be surpassed. He thought for a moment as a great artist I failed to understand the reality. He straight way moved forward towards the decorated platform where the prize for the Victor was displayed. It was a crown of olive leaf wreath. He lifted the crown and placed it on the head of Parrhasius and declared him the winner. Later he explained this to the members if the jury why deserved to be the winner. The jury approved the pre judgement of Zeuxis. Thus the story ended.

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