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Over Protogenes, een schilder afkomstig uit Caunos (vierde eeuw v. Chr.), vertelt Plinius o.m. dat hij er maar niet in slaagde om op een schilderij het schuim op de bek van een hijgende hond weer te geven: 'Omdat het vakmanschap zo zichtbaar bleef, ontstak hij in woede en smeet ten slotte een spons tegen de plek op het schilderij die hem zo irriteerde. De spons bracht de kleuren die hij had weggeveegd weer op, exact zoals hij bij zijn moeizame pogingen had gewild. Zo schonk het toeval het schilderij natuurlijkheid! Naar verluidt volgde Nealces zijn voorbeeld en bereikte een vergelijkbaar resultaat bij de weergave van het schuim op de mond van een paard. Hij smeet zijn spons tegen een schilderij waarop hij een man schilderde die het dier in bedwang probeert te houden door met zijn mond te klakken.' (35: 103-104)

Over zijn wedijver met collega-schilder Apelles schreef Plinius de volgende anekdote: 'Toen Apelles op bezoek ging bij de schilder Protogenes op het eiland Rodos vond hij hem niet thuis, maar tekende een fijne lijn op een daar aangetroffen paneel. Toen Protogenes thuiskwam herkende hij de hand van Apelles en zette met een andere kleur een nog fijnere lijn in die van Apelles. Toen Apelles weer langskwam en Protogenes weer niet thuis trof, zette hij met een derde kleur een lijn die zo fijn was dat hij niet meer te overtreffen was in fijnheid.'

Protogenes (fl. 4th century BC) was an ancient Greek painter, a contemporary rival of Apelles. As with the other famous ancient Greek painters, none of his work has survived, and it is known only from literary references and (brief) descriptions.

He was born in Caunus, on the coast of Caria, but resided 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 color. 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. 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 have been 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 colorists 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 color and drew a still finer line along that of Apelles dividing it in two. Apelles called again; and, thus challenged, drew with a third color 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. 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.

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