Core Values: The Belvedere Torso and the Birth of the Renaissance
|The Belvedere Torso|
The earliest modern record of the Belvedere Torso dates from the 1430s. What we now view as an icon of ancient Greek civilization had just resurfaced in Rome. It was far from an instant hit–it would take another generation before the Torso caught on. But once it did, this relic of antiquity sparked a classical revival that we have come to know as the Renaissance.
Why all the fuss? To begin, nudes were seldom seen in Western art during the millennium before the Torso became popular, let alone a nude as realistic and sexy as the Torso. Additionally, figurative works in the period directly preceding the Renaissance generally depicted saints or heads of state–not regular mortals. And figures were often depicted in a flat and ornamented style that sought to portray a spiritual, rather than a corporeal, presence. Further adding to the shock was the statue's greater-than-life-size scale, which made for a potent expression of heroic power. In a world still tethered to medieval Christian asceticism, the mix spelled danger.
The ecclesiastical authorities underestimated how powerful a symbol for change the Torso would become. They feared it would become an object of idolatry, but its eventual impact went far beyond that–it incited a shift in the way that people viewed themselves in relationship to the universe. It gave birth to a secular humanism that located the divine not in the heavens but in a person's earthly body.
Today most of us practice ethical tenets derived at least in part from Renaissance humanism. In a way, then, some of the core values of our society are descended from the Belvedere Torso. Art changed the world–and it still can today.
American Artist magazine is turning 75 this year and it continues to champion this transcendent motive for art making. Art keeps culture moving forward. So for heaven's sake, keep working. And while doing so, ask yourself, What do I value? The beliefs of society as a whole may depend on the answer.
Michael Gormley is the Editorial Director of American Artist.