Apelles and Protogenes were renowned painters of Ancient Greece during the time of Alexander the Great (4th century BC). They were rivals and also advocates of each other's work. Stories tell of their daily precise practice of outlining, and the laborious fine finish they brought to their work, whether drawings or paintings.
Their rivalry tested who could draw the finest, steadiest line and has famously been recorded in an anecdote in Pliny's Natural History.
Apelles travelled to Protogenes' home in Rhodes to make the acquaintance of this painter he had heard so much about. Arriving at Protogenes' studio, he encountered an old woman who told him that Protogenes was out and asked for his name so she could report who had enquired after him.
Observing in the studio a panel Protogenes had prepared for a painting, Apelles walked over to the easel, and taking up a brush told the servant to tell Protogenes "this came from me," and drew in colour an extremely fine line across the panel.
When Protogenes returned, and the old woman explained what had taken place, he examined the line and pronounced that only Apelles could have done so perfect of work; Protogenes then dipped a brush into another colour and drew a still finer line above the first one, and asked his servant to show this to the visitor should he return.
When Apelles returned, and was shown Protogenes' response, ashamed that he might be bettered, he drew in a third colour an even finer line between the first two, leaving no room for another display of craftsmanship.
On seeing this, Protogenes admitted defeat, and went out to seek Apelles and meet him face-to-face.
(Retold by Guillaume Apollinaire)