Wolfgang Beltracchi, 2018
The education of Achilles
Artistic voice: Anonymous, 2nd century A. D., Naples
Fresco, Secco, 100 x 125 cm

»The Eikones (‘Images’) is arguably the most important work of art criticism to come to us from classical antiquity. It was written, in Greek, by the Elder Philostratus – a master of rhetoric and philosophy in the third century AD. The text consists of around 65 descriptions, purportedly evoking paintings that were displayed in a private villa on the Bay of Naples. In responding to each panel, and framing his commentaries as speeches to the young, Philostratus delivers a lesson in artistic appreciation: his descriptions explore the limits of painterly representation, no less than the promise and failure of verbal language to represent visual media. Ever since the rediscovery of the work in the Renaissance, Philostratus’ text has spurred artists to re-create the paintings evoked. Even in the twenty-first century, however, the Imagines stands as a supremely creative exercise in art-critical evocation: the images described are absent, but Philostratus appeals to the mind’s eye of our imagination.«

Dr. Michael Squire, Professor of Classical Art, King’s College London

The “Eikones” from the 3rd century are the first documented descriptions of paintings. Beltracchi depicts one of their themes: Achilles and his teacher, Chiron. This indicates that the fresco could have originated from Naples in the second century. He also identifies the teacher with the philosopher and Emperor Marcus Aurelius. In antiquity, education was based on models, on Greek myths and the great men of the present. This past and ancient history, recorded in words and images, is still having an impact on European culture. The “Eikones” are placed in an educational context: a pupil is having the meaning of the themes explained to him during a tour through a gallery. Whether or not the gallery actually ever existed is open to debate. Perhaps the descriptions were simply an exercise in written rhetoric.