S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.


  • [A celebrated Greek painter, born at Heraclea about 450 B.C.; studied and worked at Athens and in Southern Italy; and was renowned for his skill in the imitation of the human form, and for his grand and energetic style.]
  • If I boast, it shall be of the slowness with which I finish my pictures.

  • To Agatharcus, the painter, who boasted of the ease and celerity with which he despatched his paintings. To the same source may be attributed the remark, when told of the rapid execution and greater production of certain other artists: “I work for immortality.”
  • Having painted so naturally a dish of grapes held by a boy that the birds pecked at the fruit, he said, “Had I painted the boy as true to nature as the grapes, the birds would have been afraid to touch them.” This may be connected with the celebrated trial of skill between Zeuxis and his younger rival Parrhasius. The former painted grapes so naturally that the birds flew at the picture to eat them; confident of success, he called upon his rival to draw aside the curtain and show his picture: the curtain itself was the picture, painted upon a board to resemble real drapery. Zeuxis yielded the palm, saying, “I deceive birds; you, an artist.” Thus the youthful Giotto painted a fly on the end of the nose of one of his master’s portraits with such naturalness that his instructor repeatedly endeavored to brush it off. A certain painter had produced a picture in which an ox was painted better than all else besides. When asked why the artist had made that animal more lifelike than the rest, Michael Angelo replied, “Every painter draws himself well.” He was so much struck with the lifelike appearance of his own statue of Moses, that he used to ask it, “Why dost thou not speak?” But this is told of an earlier sculptor, Donatello (1383–1466), who executed four portrait statues for the façade of the Cathedral of Florence, to one of which he used to say, “Porchè non parlai?” It is not strange that the same story is assigned to each of these artists; for a Florentine collector wrote under one of each of their works, “Either the spirit of Donatello works in Buonarotti, or that of Buonarotti first acted in Donatello.”
  • The Emperor Maximilian, in a visit to the studio of Albrecht Dürer, attempted to make a sketch with the artist’s charcoal, which continually broke in his hand. Dürer finished the sketch, saying, “Gracious emperor, I would not have your Majesty draw as well as myself. I have practised the art, and it is my kingdom.” But this is as old as the reproof given by the flute-player to Philip of Macedon: “Far be it from your Majesty to play as well as I;” upon which Montesquieu’s comment was: “It is poor praise to say of a king that he is a fine flute-player.” Nero had a maxim, “An artist lives everywhere.” It was a Greek proverb which the emperor used when reproached with the ardor with which he gave himself to the study of music. It corresponds to the Spanish proverb, “A skilful mechanic makes a good pilgrim,”—he will in every place find the means of support. Thus Rousseau taught that every child should be instructed in some trade; and the Germans of all ranks were formerly brought up to some handicraft, that they might be provided against the vicissitudes of fortune. Velasquez once unconsciously quoted Julius Cæsar; for when advised to copy Raphael’s pictures, he replied, “I would rather be the first of vulgar than the second of refined painters.”