The statue known as the Apollo Belvedere was once the most famous sculpture in Rome. The statue is thought to be a Roman copy (2nd century CE) of a bronze original by the Greek sculptor Leochares (4th century BCE).
The Apollo Belvedere was part of the collection of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere. When the cardinal was elected pope, taking the name Julius II (r. 1503-1513), the statue was transferred to the Vatican, where it has remained ever since.
Apollo, god of healing and prophecy, poetry and music (and much else), is depicted as an archer. Although his bow is missing, a fletch of arrows is still clearly visible on his back. He steps forward having just fired an arrow. The contraposto of his body has always been much admired.
The god is entirely naked except for his sandals and a cloak known as a chlamys, which is draped across his left arm. His abundant curly hair is tied at the top of his head by a strophium, a band symbolic of gods and kings.
The Apollo Belvedere had always been greatly admired, but in the 18th century it became the must-see sculpture in Rome when it was praised to the skies by the German art historian, Johann Joachim Wincklemann (1717-68), who described it as "the highest ideal of art among the works of antiquity that have escaped destruction".
The statue sent Wincklemann into rhapsodies of pleasure: "In gazing upon this masterpiece of art, I forget all else, and I myself adopt an elevated stance, in order to be worthy of gazing upon it. My chest seems to expand with veneration and to heave like those I have seen swollen as if by the spirit of prophecy, and I feel myself transported to Delos and to the Lycian groves, places Apollo honoured with his presence—for my figure seems to take on life and movement, like Pygmalion’s beauty."
The lower part of the right arm and the left hand, which were missing when the statue was unearthed, were restored by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli (1507–1563), a sculptor and pupil of Michelangelo.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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