1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Parrhasius
PARRHASIUS, of Ephesus, one of the greatest painters of Greece. He settled in Athens, and may be ranked among the Attic artists. The period of his activity is fixed by the anecdote which Xenophon records of the conversation between him and Socrates on the subject of art; he was therefore distinguished as a painter before 399 B.C. Seneca relates a tale that Parrhasius bought one of the Olynthians whom Philip sold into slavery, 346 B.C., and tortured him in order to have a model for his picture of Prometheus; but the story, which is similar to one told of Michelangelo, is chronologically impossible. Another tale recorded of him describes his contest with Zeuxis. The latter painted some grapes so perfectly that birds came to peck at them. He then called on Parrhasius to draw aside the curtain and show his picture, but, finding that his rival's picture was the curtain itself, he acknowledged himself to be surpassed, for Zeuxis had deceived birds, but Parrhasius had deceived Zeuxis. He was universally placed in the very first rank among painters. His skillful drawing of outlines is especially praised, and many of his drawings on wood and parchment were preserved and highly valued by later painters for purposes of study. He first attained skill in making his figures appear to stand out from the background. His picture of Theseus adorned the Capitol in Rome. His other works, besides the obscene subjects with which he is said to have amused his leisure, are chiefly mythological groups. A picture of the Demos, the personified People of Athens, is famous; according to the story, which is probably based upon epigrams, the twelve prominent characteristics of the people, though apparently quite inconsistent with each other, were distinctly expressed in this figure.