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Classics and Media Theory$
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Pantelis Michelakis

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780198846024

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198846024.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 04 December 2021

Parrhasius’ Curtain, or, a Media Archaeology of a Metapainting

Parrhasius’ Curtain, or, a Media Archaeology of a Metapainting

(p.211) 9 Parrhasius’ Curtain, or, a Media Archaeology of a Metapainting
Classics and Media Theory

Patrick R. Crowley

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the media–archaeological foundations of trompe l’oeil painting in antiquity, specifically the famous contest between the Greek painters Zeuxis and Parrhasius as recounted by Pliny the Elder. The anecdote is well known: whereas Zeuxis had painted a picture of grapes that deceived the birds who flew up to peck at them, Parrhasius won the palm for deceiving his rival with a painting of a curtain that compelled Zeuxis to ask that it be raised and the picture shown for his appraisal. Modern accounts and even depictions of the contest have universally taken for granted the formal realism of this painting, its extreme illusionism, as the catalyst of its deceptive power. By contrast, this chapter examines Parrhasius’ curtain from a media–theoretical perspective, which considers the order of representation in relation to the experience of beholders in real space. In short, it argues that the success of Parrhasius’ picture had less to do with its technical virtuosity than its shrewd understanding of how to produce the conditions for depictive and bodily co-presence.

Keywords:   Trompe l’oeil, media archaeology, painting, Zeuxis, Parrhasius, Pliny the Elder, visuality, optics, illusion, deception

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