06 May 2012

ArtSmart Roundtable: A Study of the Apollo Belvedere at the Vatican Museum in Rome

The Apollo Belvedere stands after 2,000 years in the Octagonal Court at the Vatican Museum in Rome.  All content is the copyrighted property of EuroTravelogue™. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited. 

Welcome to ArtSmart Roundtable! Each month, my Roundtable colleagues and I share our discoveries in art while traveling around the world in hopes of igniting your curiosity so that you too, can experience the art along your journeys. Each month, we focus on one study and this month it’s “sculpture.” Throughout my travels, I have encountered numerous masterpieces, many of which I have fallen in love since my days of art history in college. While I’ve written about some of them on EuroTravelogue including Michelangelo’s “David,” the “Laocoön,” Bernini—among others—I turn back to Rome, Italy, once again for a new study of the Apollo Belvedere statue housed in the Vatican Museum. For me, I have grown to love to this statue because as soon as I saw it, I was reminded instantly of the “David.” Let’s take a closer look at the Apollo Belvedere.


Michelangelo's David at the Accademia Gallery in Florence.  This photo only: Wikipedia via David Gaya. 

Ever since my first visit to Rome and the Vatican, I can never seem to spend enough time studying the thousands of sculptures throughout the museum. While impossible to see all the pieces in one day, it is possible to select a few rooms for in -depth immersion of the art within and one of my favorites stands above the rest. Located in the Octagonal Court—home Classical Antiquities—where some of the most fascinating pieces dating back 2,000 years can be seen today, the Apollo Belveder was created during a time when humanity was celebrated by the artists of the day.

As you probably know, Apollo is the god of light and music not to mention a skilled archer as well. Often identified with the sun in many a classical myth, Apollo was son to Zeus and Leto—daughter to one of the mighty Titans of ancient Greek mythology.


The Apollo Belvedere seen here dates back to the Imperial age or A.D. 130-140. All content is the copyrighted property of EuroTravelogue™. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.   

Named by Pope Julius II for the building in which he stands, this marble Apollo Belvedere, dating back to A.D. 130-140, is actually a copy of an original Greek bronze that dates from 330-320 B.C. or the Late Classical era. Undiscovered until the 15th century, Apollo appears in magnificent form and striking physique despite the fact that his left hand and lower part of his right arm were missing. Thankfully, both have been restored by Michelangelo’s pupil Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli.

Shown just moments after releasing his fatal arrow from the bow clasped tightly in his left hand, Apollo stands “contrapposto” or a position in which one leg remains rigid while the other relaxed. Around the top of the archer’s curly locks is the strophium or a band typically warn by the nobles and gods. And softly draped over his shoulders and arms, his flowing cloak contrasts with his radiant and youthful physique—suggesting the nobility of an Olympian god. Slung over Apollo’s right shoulder is his quiver held in place by a leather strap. When viewed properly, you can’t help but notice his exquisite proportions from torso to toe while he stands in this striking pose.


Side-by-side comparison of the Apollo Belvedere on left and Michelangelo's David on right. Note the similarities in their curly locks and the differences in expressions. All content is the copyrighted property of EuroTravelogue™. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Compare and Contrast

Although not as finely chiseled as the “David,” both appear as muscular youths standing in identical contrapposto positions. However if you look closely as their faces, you will see that Apollo’s face is somewhat softer and relaxed because he is shown in a state of relief after releasing his deathly arrow. David’s face, on the other hand, embodies the mounting tension and anticipation coursing through his veins before his fatal attack on Goliath. When viewed side by side in the close-up image above, it’s hard to believe that 1,500 years separate the “David” from the Apollo Belvedere.

Two quotes below articulate beautifully the magnificence of the Apollo Belvedere:

  • Romanticist Hölderlin remarked, “…the eyes observe with silent, eternal light.”
  • Art historian and archeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann wrote, “Of all the works of antiquity that have escaped destruction, the statue of Apollo represents the highest ideal of art.”

Other ArtSmart Roundtable Features of the Month:

Please join us once again next month.

12 comments:

  1. Excellent photos, Jeff. Very helpful to see similar-size images of David and the Apollo side by side. I considered graduate studies in the classics but life had something else in store. Still holds a fascination for me! Great post.

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    1. Hi there Lesley and thanks so much for your kind words. I dream about graduate studies in art history and do all that I can to educate myself especially when traveling. Thx for stopping by to share your thoughts!!

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  2. Wonderful photos of young muscular boys - Michaelangelo's favourite subjects. I'm not surprised. They are form beautiful

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    1. Hi Marlys and thanks so much for your compliments. Yes, Michelangelo understood the male form perfectly as evidenced in his David and Sistine Chapel frescoes! Thx for stopping by to share your comments.

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  3. Wonderful art history lesson and I actually learned something! I am always amazed by sculptors, I tried it once - chisels & granite - definitely takes artistic genius to produce such marvel. Wonderful post!

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    1. Hi there Leslyn!! I am so happy you learned something from this post...I love to combine my travel posts with a lesson in education so the benefits are twofold most of the time! Wow, granite!! You couldn't have picked a harder substance. You're certainly courageous! So glad you enjoyed it and thank you for your compliments!

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  4. You know, I may have walked past this to check out Augustus of Prima Porta. That is my absolute favorite in the Octagonal Gallery. I think I prefer Apollo to David. David's eyes always looked off to me.

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    1. Hi Erin and thanks for pointing out the Augustus of Prima Porta. I think I need to check that out right now...I don't recall it from my visit!! Thanks for stopping by to share your experiences and I will pass your comments on to Apollo as well! ; )

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  5. Oh, Jeff! You never fail to take me back! We stood right there last fall and looked at this statue, and yes, I too was reminded of David. Thank you for the art info... I'm a bit deficient in that area. Mostly I can tell you if I like it or not, but not a whole lot more than that.
    We just booked a cruise out of Venice with the kids! Will be there in July and August... will have to check your files for Venice and Croatia!

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    1. HI there Kim and thanks so much for all of your kind words!!! So happy that you too were reminded of the David when viewing this!! What a coincidence!! Wow, cruise out of Venice...I certainly am jealous but wishing you the best of times! While I don't have anything on Croatia just yet, click on the Venice Category in the right margin for all that I do have, especially the "Postcards" post. Have a wonderful time!!

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  6. I've never seen this statue before so I didn't know anything about Apollo. I have to admit I like David better but I have a lot of admiration for all of these sculptures.

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    1. Hi there Jeremy and thanks so much for stopping by! I agree, I prefer David as well but hey, that's progress after 1,500 years in the sculpture world. Thanks for sharing your thoughts my friend.

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Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!