The Belvedere Torso is a fragmentary marble statue of a nude male. It is signed on the front of the base by “Apollonios, son of Nestor, Athenian.” It is believed to be a copy from the 1st century BC of an older bronze statue, which probably dated to the early 2nd century BC. The identity of the figure has been much debated throughout the centuries.
The powerful male figure is seated on an animal hide and is traditionally identified as a Heracles sitting on the skin of the Nemean lion. However, the exact identification is not absolute, and Vatican historians hypothesize that the figure is Ajax, the son of Telamon, contemplating his suicide”.
The statue is first documented in the collection of a Cardinal in1433. Soon after, it gained a reputation as a catalyst for the classical revival. Early drawings of the Torso were made in the ealy1500s and then many more by artistic students and future masters. During the Sack of Rome in 1527, when it suffered some mutilation.
The contorted pose of the torso and musculature were highly influential on Renaissance, Mannerist, and Baroque artists, including Michelangelo and Raphael. Michelangelo’s admiration of the Torso was widely known in his lifetime. The Torso gained the nickname. of “The School of Michelangelo.” Michelangelo used it as the inspiration for several of the figures on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The Belvedere Torso reputation and admiration by artists continues in modern times.
Heracles was a divine hero in Greek mythology. He was the greatest of the Greek heroes, a paragon of masculinity, the ancestor of famous Greek royal clans. In Rome and the modern West, he is known as Hercules, with whom the later Roman emperors, often identified themselves. The Romans adopted the Greek version of his life and works essentially unchanged, but added their own anecdotal detail.
One of Heracles’ notable achievements was the defeat of a lion that was attacking the city of Nemea with his bare hands. He then wore the lion skin as a cloak to symbolize his power.
Ajax, son of King Telamon
Ajax is a Greek mythological hero, who played an important and courageous role as a warrior in Homer’s Iliad and in the Epic Cycle, a series of epic poems about the Trojan War. In the Iliad, Ajax is notable for his abundant strength and courage in fighting Hector and the Trojans.
When Achilles dies, Ajax and Odysseus are the key heroes who fight against the Trojans to get the body and bury it. After the burial, both Ajax and Odysseus make claims on Achilles’ magical armor, which had been forged on Mount Olympus, as recognition for their heroic efforts. A competition is held to determine who deserves the armor.
Ajax argued that because of his strength in fighting for the Greeks, including saving the Greek ships, he deserves the armor. However, Odysseus proved to be more eloquent, and the war council gave him the armor. Ajax then becomes furious and crazed and slaughters the Greek herds of captured livestock, believing them to be his enemies through a trick of the Greek goddess Athena who supported Odysseus.
Unable to deal with this dual dishonor, Ajax falls upon his own sword, “conquered by his sorrow,” and commits suicide.
- Title: Belvedere Torso
- Material: Marble
- Date of Roman Copy: 1st century BC
- Date of Original Greek: 2nd century BC bronze
- Museum: Vatican Museums
Exploring Ancient Greek Sculpture
- Statue of a Kouros
- Peplos Kore
- Artemision Bronze
- The Parthenon Marbles
- Caryatids of Erechtheum
- Boy with Thorn
- Dying Gaul
- The Winged Victory of Samothrace
- Laocoön and His Sons
- Mask of Agamemnon
A Tour of the Vatican Museums
- Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling
- Raffaello’s “School of Athens”
- Laocoön and His Sons
- “The Trials of Moses” by Sandro Botticelli
- Belvedere Torso
A Tour of Italian Museums
“Be still my heart; thou hast known worse than this.”
Photo Credit: 1) Sailko [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]