Andrea Mantegna, The Calumny of Apelles, a drawing

Italy, around AD 1504-6

The drawing was done in three shades of brown ink with some white heightening. Its subject is a complex allegory based on classical myth and literature. The composition was based on a written description of a lost painting by the famous classical Greek painter, Apelles.

Each of the figures is identified in Mantegna's handwriting. Sitting on a throne is the judge with large, ass's ears, extending his hand to Calumny (Slander). Behind him stand Suspicion on the left and Ignorance on the right who maliciously advise him. Calumny holds a torch in one hand to suggest her blazing fury, and with the other hand drags a young man by the hair. He stretches out his hands to heaven and asks the gods to witness his innocence. Envy, a thin pale man, leads Calumny, while two servants, Treachery and Deceit, adjust her hair and dress. The last two figures in the procession are Repentance, a mourning woman who wrings her hands, and finally Truth, pointing to heaven and with tears in her eyes.

The allegory was well known in the Renaissance to both artists and scholars. Botticelli's painting of the subject (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) is famous. Such works illustrate the admiration felt by Renaissance artists for Antiquity, as well as their desire to rival the achievements of their illustrious forebears.

In the seventeenth century, Rembrandt made a copy of Mantegna's drawing when it may have been in his own collection, and Rembrandt's copy is now also in The British Museum.

Find in the collection online

More information


A.E. Popham and P. Pouncey, Italian drawings in the Depa-5 (London, The British Museum Press, 1950)

J. Martineau (ed.), Andrea Mantegna, exh. cat. (Royal Academy of Arts, London and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1992)

R. Lightbown, Mantegna (Oxford, Phaidon Christie's, 1986)

M. Royalton-Kisch, Drawings by Rembrandt and his, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)


Height: 206.000 mm
Width: 379.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1860-6-16-85



Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore