parrhasiusfiddleLe Fiddle d’ Parrhasius, oil on linen, 2.5′ x 1.75′

The title may sound a bit overblown, but it’s meant to be.  It’s an art joke, for painter nerds like me to sit around and snicker about.  To fully convey the meaning of the painting, I have to go refer to two stories, one involving a French colloquialism, and the other involving ancient Greece.

The artist Ingres, 1780-1867,  was a brilliant painter of portraits and figurative work, in the French Neoclassical tradition.  But in addition to his career as a painter, Ingres would play the violin in his studio.  Ingres’s well-known passion for playing the violin gave to the French language a colloquialism, “violon d’Ingres“, meaning a second skill beyond the one by which a person is mainly known. (Wikipedia, Ingres)

And the second story is…

“The history of trompe l’oeil painting begins with Pliny’s Natural History, in which Pliny the Elder recounts the story of a famous rivalry (c. 400 B.C.E.) between the Greek artists Zeuxis and Parrhasius. During a challenge by Parrhasius to ascertain who could produce the most realistic painting, Zeuxis pulled the drapes from in front of his work, and, according to Pliny, birds flew down from the sky to peck at the grapes depicted by the master painter. Zeuxis then turned to Parrhasius in triumph, asking him to draw the curtains from his work and reveal his painting. However, the drapes Zeuxis was referring to were actually part of Parrhasius’ work, and Parrhasius emerged the victor” (quote from Beth Sorenson, Reed College.)

And then, the final, dry joke is that it is an Irish fiddle, complete with beer on the side.  That’s it.  That’s my joke.  Okay, I agree, it isn’t that funny, but somewhere out there is a dorky art historian who is laughing pretty hard.

When I played Irish music with a ceili band here in New York, this was a scene I would often see on break.  In the end, it is just a painting of a violin and beer, on a chair, behind a curtain.