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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.


Proto­genes, a Greek painter, born in Caunus, on the coast of Caria, but resident in Rhodes during the latter half of the 4th century B.C. He was celebrated for the minute and laborious finish which he bestowed on his pictures, both in drawing and in colour. Apelles, his great rival, standing astonished in presence of one of these works, could only console himself by saying that it was wanting in charm. On one picture, the "Ialysus," he spent seven years; on another, the "Satyr," he worked continuously during the siege of Rhodes by Demetrius Poliorcetes (305‑304 B.C.) notwithstanding that the garden in which he painted was in the middle of the enemy's camp. Demetrius, unsolicited, took measures for his safety; more than that, when told that the "Ialysus" just mentioned was in a part of the town exposed to assault, Demetrius changed his plan of operations. Ialysus was a local hero, the founder of the town of the same name in the island of Rhodes, and probably he was represented as a huntsman. This picture was still in Rhodes in the time of Cicero, but was afterwards removed to Rome, where it perished in the burning of the Temple of Peace.​a The picture painted during the siege of Rhodes consisted of a satyr leaning idly against a pillar on which was a figure of a partridge, so life-like that ordinary spectators saw nothing but it. Enraged on this account, the painter wiped out the partridge. The "Satyr" must have been one of his last works. He would then be about seventy years of age, and had enjoyed for about twenty years a reputation next only to that of Apelles, his friend and benefactor. Both were finished colourists so far as the fresco painting of their day permitted, and both were laborious in the practice of drawing, doubtless with the view to obtaining bold effects of perspective as well as fineness of outline. It was an illustration of this practice when Apelles, finding in the house of Proto­genes a large panel ready prepared for a picture, drew upon it with a brush a very fine line which he said would tell sufficiently who had called. Proto­genes on his return home took a brush with a different colour and drew a still finer line along that of Apelles dividing it in two. Apelles called again; and, thus challenged, drew with a third colour another line within that of Proto­genes, who then admitted himself surpassed. This panel was seen by Pliny (N. H. XXXV.83) in Rome, where it was much admired, and where it perished by fire. In the gallery of the Propylaea at Athens was to be seen a panel by Proto­genes. The subject consisted of two figures representing personifications of the coast of Attica, Paralus and Hammonias.​b For the council chamber at Athens he painted figures of the Thesmothetae, but in what form or character is not known. Probably these works were executed in Athens, and it may have been then that he met Aristotle, who recommended him to take for subjects the deeds of Alexander the Great. In his "Alexander and Pan" he may have followed that advice in the idealizing spirit to which he was accustomed. To this spirit must be traced also his "Cydippe" and "Tlepolemus," legendary personages of Rhodes. Among his portraits are mentioned those of the mother of Aristotle, Philiscus the tragic poet, and King Antigonus. But Proto­genes was also a sculptor to some extent, and made several bronze statues of athletes, armed figures, huntsmen and persons in the act of offering sacrifices.

Thayer's Notes:

a Probably in A.D. 191. Statements online that the Temple of Peace burned in A.D. 64 are in error, since the Temple was not built until 71: see the article Templum Pacis in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. The confusion seems to have arisen from the next fire mentioned above, in which the minimalist joint artwork of Proto­genes and Apelles was destroyed: in that passage, Pliny states that it was burned up "in the first fire [prior, i.e., of the two that occurred] on the Palatine", thus in A.D. 3 or 4 — for which see Platner's article Domus Augusti. Neither of these conflagrations, however, is the famous fire of Nero in 64.

b Not quite: Paralus and Hammonias were Athenian state galleys. The painting was thus a portrait of two ships; in the passage referred to Pliny says clearly that it supports the opinion of those who considered Proto­genes to have been for much of his life a naval genre painter.

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Page updated: 1 Dec 10