Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Apollo Belvedere

The Belvedere Apollo, marble copy of Bronze from late 4th century

The Apollo Belvedere is one of the best known ancient statues. It gives us a youthful, trim Apollo, whose gaze takes us to one who, er, is just looking. There's nobody inside. I never got this piece. I thought it was dull, and kind of embarrassing. It was supposed to be great art and I didn’t see it. Then I read Kenneth Clark on its “weak structure and slack surfaces.” Clark quotes Winckelmann, the great 19th century critic, who calls it, “the highest ideal of art among all the works of antiquity. Enter, O reader, with your spirit into this kingdom of beauty incarnate, and thee seek to create for yourself the images of the divine nature” (The Nude, 84). Clark doesn't actually say "Phooey," but you can sense it lurking there.

Winckelmann had some odd notions, it turns out. He wrote,

As it is confessedly the beauty of man which is to be conceived under one general idea, so I have noticed that those who are observant of beauty only in women, and are moved little or not at all by the beauty of men, seldom have an impartial, vital, inborn instinct for beauty in art. To such persons the beauty of Greek art will ever seem wanting, because its supreme beauty is rather male than female. But the beauty of art demands a higher sensibility than the beauty of nature, bcause the beauty of art, like tears shed at a play, gives no pain, is without life and must be awakened and repaired by culture. Now, as the sirit of culture is much more ardent in youth than in manhood, the instinct of which I am speaking must be exercised and directed to what is beautiful, before that age is reached at which one would be afraid to confess that one had no taste for it. (Quoted in Rictor Norton, "Johann Joachim Winckelmann", The Great Queens of History, 30 December 2000 .) {typos preserved}


The Belvedere Apollo was widely copied and became part of the popular repertory of the fine arts, or classical art.

Woodford contrasts it with the Olympia Apollo, the earlier Apollo being still, geometric, firm, and majestic while this one moves, avoids geometrical effects, and looks sleek, soft, graceful, and urbane.

The version in the Vatican, of course, wears the fig leaf.