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.
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: http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/museo-pio-clementino/sala-delle-muse/torso-del-belvedere.html