A tale of curtains and birds

A tale of curtains and birds

Zeuxis and Parrhasius were two ancient Greek artists, whose infamous painting contest was recorded in the Historia Naturalis by Pliny the Elder. This contest was held to determine which of the two was the greater virtuoso.

Zeuxis painted some grapes so perfectly luscious and inviting that a flock of birds flew in to pick them and ended up pecking at their image instead. Zeuxis was confident he had created a unique masterpiece, since he had fooled the birds with his brilliant illusion. The following day, Parrhasius invited Zeuxis to his studio, where Parrhasius led his rival to his painting concealed by a curtain.

Zeuxis was asked to draw the curtain aside to gaze on his opponent’s masterpiece. As he reached for it, Zeuxis realized that the curtain was not a real curtain, but in fact a realistic rendering of one. Zeuxis conceded defeat, for while he was only able to deceive the birds, while Parrhasius had deceived the keen eyes of an artist.

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