The Belvedere Torso is a fragment of a nude male statue, signed prominently on the front of the base by an Athenian sculptor "Apollonios son of Nestor", who is unmentioned in ancient literature. The statue is documented in the collection of Cardinal Prospero Colonna in Monte Cavallo, Rome from the 1430s, not because it elicited admiration but because an antiquarian epigrapher, Ciriaco d'Ancona (or someone in his immediate circle), made note of its inscription; a generation later it began its career as a catalyst of the classical revival. Early drawings of the Torso were made by Amico Aspertini, ca 1500–03, by Martin van Heemskerck, ca. 1532–36, by Hendrick Goltzius, ca 1590; the Belvedere Torso entered the visual repertory of connoisseurs and artists unable to go to Rome through the engraving of it by Giovanni Antonio da Brescia, ca 1515. Around 1500 it was in the possession of the sculptor Andrea Bregno. It was in Palazzo Colonna at the Sack of Rome in 1527, when it suffered some mutilation. How it entered the Vatican collections is uncertain, but by the mid-16th century it was installed in the Cortile del Belvedere, where it joined the Apollo Belvedere and other famous Roman sculptures. "The Laocoön took two months from unearthing to Belvedere canonization," Leonard Barkan observed, "the Torso took a hundred years." The figure has traditionally been identified as a Heracles, seated on an animal skin, though in recent studies,the skin has been identified as that of a panther, not the Nemean lion, occasioning other identifications.
It was once believed to be a 1st-century BC original, but is now believed to be a copy of an older statue, likely dating to the 2nd century BC. The statue's figure is portrayed seated on an animal hide; the exact figure represented remains open to debate (possibilities include Hercules, Polyphemus and Marsyas, among others).
The contorted pose of the torso and musculature were highly influential on late Renaissance, Mannerist, and Baroque artists, including Michelangelo and Raphael. Michelangelo's admiration of the Torso was widely known in his lifetime, to the extent that the Torso gained the sobriquet, "The School of Michelangelo"
Legend has it that Pope Julius II requested that Michelangelo complete the statue fragment with arms, legs and a face. He respectfully declined, stating that it was too beautiful to be altered, and instead used it as the inspiration for the majority of the figures in the Sistine Chapel, including, but not limited to, the Sibyls and Prophets bordering the ceiling. The Belvedere Torso remains one of the few ancient sculptures admired in the 17th and 18th centuries whose reputation has not suffered in modern times.
Michelangelo's The Last Judgement. Saint Bartholomew is shown holding the knife of his martyrdom and his flayed skin. The figure's torso strongly echoes the Belvedere Torso.
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- Noted in Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, Taste and the Antique: the lure of classical sculpture, 1400–1900, 1981:311.
- All illustrated by Leonard Barkan, Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture (Yale University Press, 1999) ill. 3.79–85.
- The earliest dated sketches show the right leg intact through the knee. The engraving by Giovanni Antonio da Brescia, ca 1515, through which it became widely known, showed it with its legs complete, an imaginary restoration, according to Leonard Barkan, Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture (Yale University Press, 1999) p 193f.
- For its Renaissance career, Barkan 1999:190ff.
- Winckelmann dated it to about 200 BC, a Greek work that had been imported to Rome (Geschichte 1764:368ff).
- Ulisse Aldrovandi published Michelangelo's admiration for the Torso in "Delle statue antiche..." in Lucio Mauro, Le Antichità della città di Roma, Venice, 1556 (Haskell and Penny 1981:312).
- Edward Wright, Some Observations Made While Travelling through France, Italy &c... London, 1730, noted in Haskell and Penny 1981:313 note 25.
- Noted by A. D. Potts, "Greek Sculpture and Roman Copies I: Anton Raphael Mengs and the Eighteenth Century" Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 43 (1980:150–173) p. 150
- A. Andrén, ""Il torso del Belvedere", Opuscula Archaeologica 7 (Lund, 1952)
- For example a bronze statuette formerly in the von Pannwitz collection, by a follower of L'Antico (Diana M. Buitron, "The Alexander Nelidow: A Renaissance Bronze?" The Art Bulletin 55.3 (September 1973:393–400) p398).