The Belvedere Torso

By Laura Meuller

The Belvedere Torso is an early Second Century Roman sculpture, disfigured due to time. The subject matter is indecisive, although many perceive it to be Hercules because of the fur covered pedestal. Michelangelo, in the Sixteenth Century, was heavily influenced by the sculpture, especially in his portrayal of the male body in the Sistine ceiling. 

The Belvedere torso

is incomplete: missing

arms, legs, head, history.


According to legend,

Pope Julius II asked Michelangelo

to finish the Belvedere Torso, complete

the incomplete. Make whole again.


And, according to legend,

Michelangelo refused, calling

the torso too beautiful incomplete

to be added to, corrupted.


Herculean figure,

how do you define originality?

There were less copyright laws

in the High Renaissance: artists

borrowed, never stole, ideas and forms.


Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,

yet why should you recreate the past

if all we have is the present?

Michelangelo created the present:

finding sculptures in hunks of marble,

bodies hidden under the surface of

white washed ceilings.


We are missing context. The torso lacks

a story: Heracles or Hercules?

The legend lacks a completion:

was the Pope angry at his refusal? Did

Michelangelo attempt to sketch and fail?


The past is cyclical,

a renaissance of thought, of inspiration,

of subject matter. The second century

becomes the sixteenth. Marble

is still quarried from the earth,

torsos are still uncovered from

slabs of rock. The past never

needs to be recreated, as it is always now.


In literature, you write in present tense.

Odysseus is, has, and will always be

sailing the wine-dark seas. Hercules

will remain slaying the lion. Where art

and literature meet is where Michelangelo

will always be sculpting the torso,

where the incomplete is fine as it is,

where the legend allows the Belvedere

torso to remain unravaged by time.



Image source: The Vatican Museum Website, accessed 24th July, 2017: