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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

F. B. Tarbell, A History of Ancient Greek Art

Greek Painting



Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader

Protogenes was another painter whom even the slightest sketch cannot afford to pass over in silence. He was born at Caunus in southwestern Asia Minor and flourished about the same time as Apelles. We read of his conversing with the philosopher Aristotle (died 322 B.C.), of whose mother he painted a portrait, and of his being engaged on his most famous work, a picture of a Rhodian hero, at the time of the siege of Rhodes by Demetrius (304 B.C.). He was an extremely painstaking artist, inclined to excessive elaboration in his work. Apelles, who is always represented as of amiable and generous character, is reported as saying that Protogenes was his equal or superior in every point but one, the one inferiority of Protogenes being that he did not know when to stop. According to another anecdote Apelles, while profoundly impressed by Protogenes's masterpiece, the Rhodian hero above referred to, pronounced it lacking in that quality of grace which was his own most eminent merit.[1] There are still other anecdotes, which give an entertaining idea of the friendly rivalry between these two masters, but which do not help us much in imagining their artistic qualities. As regards technique, it seems likely that both of them practiced principally "tempera" painting, in which the colors are mixed with yolk of eggs or some other sticky non-unctuous medium.[2] Both Apelles and Protogenes are said to have written technical treatises on the painter's art.

[1] Plutarch, "Life of Demetrius," Section 22.

[2] Oil painting was unknown in ancient times.

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