The Belvedere Torso, which means “the beautiful torso,” could arguably be one of the most important statues in history. This is no small feat for a statue that is lacking legs, arms, and even a head. The Belvedere Torso is placed in the center of the Room of the Muses inside the Vatican museums and is one of the top things to see when you visit. Even though it is a fracture of what the statue must once have been, it has had an enormous influence on many great artists including Michelangelo, Raphael, Rodin, and even Picasso.
History of the Belvedere Torso
This statue was clearly sculpted by a genius but its origins are very unclear. It is believed to be sculpted in either the 1st century AD or the 1st century BC, but either way, it is around 2000 years old. There are a few clues as to the subject of the sculpture, with some experts claiming it is a statue of Hercules after slaying the great Nemean Lion, so look out for the lion’s claws that can be seen at the base of the statue. However, the Vatican and other experts believe it to be the philosopher Ajax, son of Telamon from Greek Mythology, placed in a pensive position because he is contemplating suicide.
Despite the fact that we know little of the statue’s origins we do know that it was rediscovered in the 1430s and following its unveiling, it began to have a colossal influence on many celebrated artists. Here is a look at the painters, sculptors and creatives who have studied the Belevedere Torso and how it has impacted their own work.
Michelangelo was asked by Pope Julius II to restore the statue to its former glory adding the head, legs, and arms. The Pope felt this was the perfect, challenging commission but Michelangelo refused, arguing that it was so beautiful that even he could not do the Belvedere torso justice. Though he did not want to leave his mark upon the perfect torso, this didn’t stop Michelangelo from using the statue as his model for some of his most important work. The Belvedere influence can clearly be seen in Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel where St. Bartholomew (holding his own skin) and the body of Christ are modeled on the Belvedere torso.
It is believed that Rodin’s most famous sculpting, The Thinker, was based on how Rodin believed the Belvedere Torso would have been posed. If the Vatican website claims are correct and the original statue represents the philosopher Ajax contemplating suicide, then you can see where the contemplation comes from in Rodin’s The Thinker.
When we think of Picasso, we think of modern art at its fullest. However, Picasso was also trained as an academic. One of his academic studies when he was as young as 14 was to make drawings of the Belvedere Torso. Although there is no record of Picasso seeing the statue in real life, he most likely worked from an engraving made by Giovanni Antonio di Brescia which depicted the statue and was widely circulated to other artists.