Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    The Calumny of Apelles; at left the seated judge, wearing a crown and with large ears, and at right a group of women including one dragging a child by the hair Pen and brown ink, with brown wash

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1504-1506
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 206 millimetres
    • Width: 379 millimetres (original sheet)
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Inscribed: 'Sospicione', 'Ignoratia', 'ividia', 'Calumnia/di Apelle', 'Inocentia', 'decptione', 'Insidio' and 'Verita'.
  • Curator's comments

    Engraved in the same direction on a larger-scale by Girolamo Mocetto (Bartsch XIII, 113.10), with the addition of a view of the Campo di San Giovanni e Paolo, Venice in the background. A drawn copy by Rembrandt after Mantegna's study, which he probably owned, is in the BM (1860,0616.86) Mantegna's drawing is based on a lost allegorical painting by the Greek artist Apelles described by Lucian in his 'Calumny'. The text had been translated from the original Greek into Latin by Guarino of Verona, and his description had been paraphrased and slightly adapted by Leon Battista Alberti in both the Italian and Latin versions of his treatise 'On Painting'. The drawing differs from the Lucian's text and the various translations in a number of respects, notably by representing Innocence (the figure dragged by the hair) and Envy (the figure leading Calumny) as females. Alberti alone does not specify that the King is seated on the right, and here he is shown on the left. This could be due to Mantegna's intention to have the design engraved, a process which normally resulted in the composition being reversed. However this does not seem a satisfactory explanation since Mocetto's print does not reverse the composition and, as Ekserdjian noted, the gestures of the King and of Truth are all made with the right hand, something that the artist would have presumably avoided. Popham and Pouncey, followed by Ekserdjian, date this to Mantegna's last period 1504-6, comparing it in style and the frieze-like composition to the 'Introduction of the Cult of Cybele in Rome' in the National Gallery, London (no. 135 in the London and New York exhibition). See also related inscription by John Barnard on separate sheet (bearing same registration number) which describes the subject. Lit.: K.T. Parker, 'North Italian Drawings of the Quattrocento', London, 1927, no. 14, p. 25; A.E. Popham and P. Pouncey, 'Italian drawings in the BM, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries', London, 1950, I, no. 158, II, pl. CXLVI; R.Lightbown, 'Mantegna', Oxford, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1986, no. 195; J.-M. Massing, 'La Calomnie d'Apelle', Strasbourg, 1990, no. 6A. p. 264; D. Ekserdjian, in exhib. cat., London, Royal Academy and New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 'Andrea Mantegna', 1992, no. 154 (with previous literature); G. Agosti, in exhib. cat., Florence, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, 'Disegni del Rinascimento in Valpadana', 2001, under no. 17, p. 138

    Popham & Pouncey 1950
    Engraved in the same direction on a larger scale by Girolamo Mocetto (B. xiii, p. 113, 10) with the addition of a view of the Campo di S. Zanipolo, Venice, as a background.
    The judge is attended by 'suspicione' on the left and 'ignorātia' on the right; 'ividia' in the form of a hag with ass's ears approaches from the right introducing a crowned woman, underneath whom is inscribed 'Calumnia di apelle', who drags a youth 'Inocentia' by the hair; Calumny is attended by 'decptione' and 'insidia'; following these 'penitentia' with folded hands turns back to 'Verita' on the extreme right. Inscriptions as given.
    Richard Förster has gone into the question of the subject with great thoroughness in the article cited above, to which we would refer the reader. It will, however, be as well to quote from him (op. cit., pp. 112 f.) the passage in Lucian as translated by Bordo ('Luciani de veris narrationibus', &c, Venice, 1494), perhaps the most probable immediate source.

    "In dextra quidem vir sedet permagnas habens aures ferme auriculis Midae similes manum protendens longe ad calumniam adhuc accedentem. Circa ipsum vero stant duae mulieres: ignorantia mihi esse videtur et suspitio: ex alia parte accedit calumnia muliercula supra modum pulchra, ardens autem et concitata sicut per rabiem et iram ostendens, sinistra quidem facem accensam tenens, altera vero adolescentem quendam per capillos trahens manus tendentem in caelum et testantem deos. Praecedit autem vir pallidus et deformis acute intuens et similis qui ex longo morbo sunt exsiccati. Hunc igitur esse invidiam aliquis coniectaret. Atqui et quædam aliae duae sequuntur dìrigentes et adornantes calumniam. postquam autem mihi interpres imaginis significavit: altera quidem insidia erat: altera autem fraus. post tergum vero sequebatur valde lugubriter quaedam adornata pullis vestibus induta laceraque penitentia: et [penitentia] haec dicebatur. retro igitur flectebatur lugens: et cum verecundia valde veritatem advenientem aspiciebat. Hoc modo Apelles suum periculum in tabula est imitatus."

    It will have been observed that Lucian describes the king as seated on the right and Calumny as holding a torch in her left hand and dragging the boy with the other hand. Mantegna reverses things and substitutes 'deceptione' for 'fraus', who occurs in all the sources quoted by Förster. It is true that in one of these, the Italian version of L. B. Alberti's 'De Pictura' (1436, ed. H. Janitschek, Vienna, 1877, pp. 145 ff.), the side on which the king is seated is not specified and Calumny is described as holding the torch in her right hand. It is possible that Mantegna followed this version, though the names he gives his characters do not entirely agree (his 'invidia' = 'livore', his 'deceptione' = 'fraude').
    Another possible explanation of the composition being in reverse is that Mantegna intended it for the engraver and reversed it on this account. But against this explanation are the facts: (i) that Mocetto in engraving it did not reverse it (though he reversed his own background); (ii) the 'Allegory of Vice and Virtue' (Pp,1.23) was reproduced in the same direction by an engraver definitely of Mantegna's school; (iii) Mantegna drew the 'Battle of the Sea-Gods' (at Chatsworth) in the direction in which he himself subsequently engraved it.
    There are some other points in which Mantegna departed from the text of Lucian and his translators. He turns the person preceding 'Calumnia', who is invariably described as a man, into a hag with ass's ears. The change of sex might well, as has been suggested, be due to Mantegna's having used Bordo's translation in which the name given is 'invidia', instead of 'livore' as in Accolti's translation and Alberti's version (loc. cit.); Lapo's is a less likely source: his translation gives 'invidia' but substitutes 'inscitia' for 'ignorantia'. It is natural to make 'invidia' female. The same applies to the figure dragged along by 'Calumnia'. Mantegna calls it 'innocentia' (this name does not seem to occur in any of the sources) and turns it into a girl.

    We have assumed that the drawing is by Mantegna himself. His authorship was accepted by Förster, by Morelli, and by Colvin (in the 1895 'Guide'), but not by Kristeller or by Berenson. The identity of style with that of the universally accepted 'Madonna and Child with an Angel' (1858,0724.3) seems to us unquestionable. Its date is approximately determined by the very close resemblance of the types, the draperies, and the movements of the figures to those in the so-called 'Triumph of Scipio' in the National Gallery (no. 902), believed to be the work painted for Francesco Cornaro in 1504-6.

    Literature: R. Förster, Prussian Jahrbuch, viii (1887), 29; Morelli, Die Galerien zu München und Dresden, 1891, p. 233; B.M. Guide, 1895, no. 47; Cruttwell, p. 107; Dürer Society, iii (1900), 18 (repr.); Kristeller, p. 461; Hind, B.M., p. 465, under no. 9; the same, Catalogue of Dutch and Flemish Drawings, i, 1915, p. 34; the same, Vasari Society, Second Series, xii (1931), 1; K. T. Parker, North Italian Drawings, 1927, pl. 14; R. Piccoli, Burlington, Ivi (1930), p. 250 (repr.); G. Q. Giglioli, Rassegna d'arte, xx (1920), pp. 175 f.; Hind, v, pp. 165 f., under no. 12.


  • Bibliography

    • Popham & Pouncey 1950 158 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (Italian Roy XVc)

  • Exhibition history

    1972, BM, 'The Art of Drawing', no. 123 1981 Jan-April, London, V&A, 'Drawing: Technique & Purpose', no. 59A 1987/8 Nov-Feb, London, V&A, 'The Image Multiplied' 1992 Jan-April, London, Royal Academy, 'Mantegna', no. 154 1992 May-July, New York, Met Mus of Art, 'Mantegna', no. 154
    2008/9 Sep-Jan, Paris, Musée du Louvre, Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506)

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


The Calumny of Apelles; at l the seated judge, wearing a crown and with large ears, and at r a group of women including one dragging a child by the hair Pen and brown ink, with brown wash

The Calumny of Apelles; at l the seated judge, wearing a crown and with large ears, and at r a group of women including one dragging a child by the hair Pen and brown ink, with brown wash

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