Callimachus (Kallimachos) was an architect and sculptor working in the second half of the 5th century BC in the manner established by Polyclitus. He was credited with work in both Athens and Corinth and was probably from one of the two cities. According to Vitruvius (iv.1), for his great ingenuity and taste the Athenians dubbed Callimachus katatêxitechnos (literally, 'finding fault with one's own craftmanship': perfectionist). His reputation in the 2nd century AD was reported in an aside by Pausanias, as one "although not of the first rank of artists, was yet of unparalleled cleverness, so that he was the first to drill holes through stones"— that is, in order to enhance surface effects of light and shade in locks of hair, foliage and other details. Thus it is reported that Callimachus was known for his penchant for elaborately detailed sculptures or drapery, though few securely attributed works by him survive. He may have been responsible for the lost original model of numerous Roman copies of the same statue, whose features have been retroactively surmised based on the extant copies. Because of these many imitations, the stature has been given the name Venus Genetrix (Venus Universal Mother). In this iconic formula, the goddess, who with her right hand is about to cover her head, with her peplum, presents the apple awarded her in her left, her left breast free of the sheer, clinging draperies that reveal her. A number of the Roman copies are in major collections: the "Frejus Venus" in the Louvre [1], and at Detroit [2], and in the J. Paul Getty Museum [3].

Callimachus is credited with the sculptures of Nikes on the frieze of the Temple of Athena Nike ("Athena, Bringer of Victory") on the Propylaea of the Acropolis of Athens. The small temple was commissioned by Pericles shortly before his death in 429, and built ca 427– 410.

Pliny mentions his Laconian Dancers. Six ecstatic Maenads attributed to him exist in Roman copies.

Callimachus is credited with inventing the Corinthian capital, which Roman architects erected into one of the Classical orders. The attribution comes from Vitruvius's On Architecture (book IV) (here in Morris Hicky Morgan's translation):

Callimachus Inspiration of the Corinthian Order. A basket on an acanthus.

It is related that the original discovery of this form of capital was as follows. A freeborn maiden of Corinth, just of marriageable age, was attacked by an illness and passed away. After her burial, her nurse, collecting a few little things which used to give the girl pleasure while she was alive, put them in a basket, carried it to the tomb, and laid it on top thereof, covering it with a roof-tile so that the things might last longer in the open air. This basket happened to be placed just above the root of an acanthus. The acanthus root, pressed down meanwhile though it was by the weight, when springtime came round put forth leaves and stalks in the middle, and the stalks, growing up along the sides of the basket, and pressed out by the corners of the tile through the compulsion of its weight, were forced to bend into volutes at the outer edges.

Just then Callimachus, whom the Athenians called katatêxitechnos for the refinement and delicacy of his artistic work, passed by this tomb and observed the basket with the tender young leaves growing round it. Delighted with the novel style and form, he built some columns after that pattern for the Corinthians, determined their symmetrical proportions, and established from that time forth the rules to be followed in finished works of the Corinthian order.

There is no way to corroborate Vitruvius's account, but since the elaborate design of the Corinthian column resembles other works attributed to Callimachus, the attribution seems reasonable to modern architectural historians. The complex and difficult design of the column's capital often required drilling to undercut the leaf edges.

In the cella of the Erechtheion hung an ingenious golden lamp invented by Callimachus, according to Pausanias' Description of Greece: it needed to be refilled with oil only once a year. Above it hung a bronze palm branch which trapped any rising smoke.

The Callimachus Lamp in the Erechtheion

Ancient sources

Pausanias (geographer)|Pausanias, (I.xxvi.6-7); Vitruvius (IV.1.9-10); Pliny the Elder, Natural History XXXIV.xix.32)


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