Until recently that painting by Sandro Botticelli has been for me a puzzle difficult to solve. The title, “Calumny of Apelles”, clearly indicates the allegorical meaning of the composition. Where, however, is the personification of the title Calumny? Until now, it seemed to me that she was the woman dressed in black. Ugly, old, looking back with an unpleasant grime on her lips. What would be more adequate to personificate all the evil that the calumny is. However, I have been deceived, this figure symbolizes Repentance. Her sadness is regret for bad behavior and the desire to bring redress. Her old age means wisdom acquired in time.
Apart from her, the stage is filled mainly by a group of young, beautiful women, two of them are leaning over a king sitting on the throne, three are surrounding the half-naked man, pulled by the hair – a victim of slander. Additionally the man dressed in black cloak is obscuring the monarch’s clear judgment. This is Envy – standing with his hand outstretched between the king and the victim.
Young women emanate with beauty, goodness and truth. None of them can be easily associated with the repulsive, destructive and harmful effect of falsity. Or stupidity. This one is the attribute of the ruler with donkey ears, to which Suspicion and Ignorance are sipping lies.The worst counselors of just judgment. Their beauty suddenly takes on a new meaning, becoming a disguise, a tool of deception to build false foundations of trust.
The sought by us Calumny occupies a central place in the composition. She has the form of a beautiful, young woman in rich robes in modest colors of white and blue. It is also a disguise, prepared by her companions: Fraud and Rancour. We see them adjusting her cloak and weaving her hair up to the last moment. All this to strengthen the trust that comes from mere appearance.
Placed at the very end, the Truth looks a bit pale compared with them. Her beauty is pure, no rich robes obscure it. She is silent, raising her eyes and hand to the sky. Her weapon is nakedness deprived of falsehood. The truth should defend herself without tricks or twisted words. The problem arises, however, when the authority has donkey ears.