Crambe Repetita – rhyparographia or rhopographia?


Crambe repetita: Cabbage warmed up the second time; hence used proverbially for any tedious repetition of a truism, an old story, etc. The expression comes from the 2nd century Roman satirist Juvenal: occidit miseros crambe repetita magistros – literally cabbage repeated is the death of the wretched masters.

I’m guilty of castigating others for spewing out repetitious dull work but when I think about it I’m just as guilty. Caterpillars crop up far too frequently, and frankly my dear, it’s high time they were exterminated.


But I’m allowing myself one more caterpillar sandwich.


In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder used the term ‘rhyparographos’ to describe the paintings of Piraeikos, a still life artist, whom he rather despised. Piraeikos enjoyed considerable success in his time. Unfortunately we only know of his work through Pliny’s rather jaundiced view; ‘he followed a humble line….. painting barbers’ shops, asses, eatables…. earning himself the name of rhyparographos ’ or painter of filth.’ (Pliny, Natural History, XXV, 112)

It is indeed a shame that Piraikos’ filthy paintings have long since disappeared, I think I would have enjoyed them. I like this idea of drawing with filth and excrement so I thought I would incorporate some into my cabbage sculpture.

Anyway Pliny seems to have spent a lot of time describing things as filthy – painters, donkeys, pelicans, lizards, crocodiles- anything really. I don’t David Attenborough would have much to worry about if he was alive today- I don’t think old Pliny would get much work as a natural history correspondent.

Another art critic from the 17th century, Gerard de Lairesse was an equally  harsh reviewer. He objected strongly to paintings, which contained ‘failed or withered flowers’ or ‘fruit of the lowest and commonest sort, still unripe or putrefied or soiled’. I love this, apart from the fact that it sounds like something written by H. P. Lovecraft (another of my personal favourites) – if I knew which fruits were low and common I would go out of my way to use them in my artwork.

There is something very entertaining about the idea of an ill-bred quince or an apple with inferior connections. It also brings to mind again the concept of rhyparography or rhopography; still-life painting of trivial, sordid or unsuitable subject matter. Many art critics have considered the genre to be the lowest form of art; they thought art should deal with ‘pictorial narratives about “important persons” real or imagined (secular, ecclesiastical or legendary’.

By the way, I lied about the cabbage – I used rhubarb leaves because they were so much easier to cast.


About pennimania

Artist, entomologist, grumbler.
This entry was posted in Pleionexia and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Crambe Repetita – rhyparographia or rhopographia?

  1. Your work and words send me off on new voyages of discovery..thank you xxx

  2. Pingback: The Eyes Have It | Boboli Personality

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