Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Calumny of Apelles, a drawing

Signed and dated AD 1565

This drawing was made in pen and brown ink with a brown wash. It is the only known example of a drawing by Bruegel with a classical theme. The subject is taken from a picture by the classical Greek artist, Apelles, described by the Greek writer, Lucian (around AD 125 - after 180), whose translated text the artist followed closely. Latin titles tell the viewer who each of the figures represents.

Sitting on a throne to the right is a judge with large ears, suggesting he is like an ass. He stretches out his hand, past two female figures labelled Ignorance (IGNORANCIA) and Suspicion (SV[SP]ICIO), to Slander (CALVMNIA). Slander holds a blazing torch in her left hand to express her anger while she drags a young man who prays to heaven for the gods to witness his innocence. Attending and encouraging her are Treachery (INSIDIAE) and Deceit (FALLACIA) while leading this group is Envy (LYVOR). Following behind are the modest figures of Penitence (PENI[T]ENCIA) and naked Truth ([V]ERITAS). The figures represent an allegory in which Truth should triumph over all her enemies.

The biographer Karel van Mander mentions that in Bruegel's own opinion, his painting Truth breaks through was one of his finest works. It is possible that this drawing had some connection with this painting, now lost.

Many important Renaissance artists illustrated this classical allegory, including Mantegna and Botticelli. It is possible that Bruegel knew an engraving by Girolamo Mocetto (around 1448-1531) made after Mantegna's drawing.

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More information


W.S. Gibson, Bruegel (Thames and Hudson, 1997)

C. White, 'Pieter Bruegel the Elder: two new drawings', Burlington Magazine-7, 101 (1959)

H. Mielke, Pieter Bruegel, Die Zeichnunge (Brepols, Turnhout, 1998)

J.O. Hand (ed.), The age of Bruegel: Netherland (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC & Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 1986, 1987)


Height: 202.000 mm
Width: 306.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1959-2-14-1


Purchased with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund


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