The Belvedere Apollo in the Vatican Museum is one of the most famous sculptures from the Antiquity. It became particularly celebrated in the 18th century, when art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann, one of the founding fathers of modern archeology, rediscovered it and praised it as being the best example of Greek perfection in the arts.
The statue, found in central Italy during the Renaissance, represents the Greek god Apollo as a standing archer, killing the serpent Python, the guardian of Delphi. After killing the monster, Apollo made his own oracle in his home in Delphi. The statue is particularly famous for its so-called contrapposto stance, or counter-pose resting on one leg.
Since the Renaissance, admiring artists had made drawings of it, which helped spread its fame beyond Rome. It became particularly noticed when Pope Julius II, who had ordered the renovation of the Vatican palaces, decided to put the statue in the newly built Cortile del Belvedere. There the Apollo found its natural home. It was equally praised by the many great artists who were working in the Vatican at the time, including Michelangelo, Raffaello and Bramante.
Interest in it was revived in the 18th century following Winckelmann’s studies. Originally from Germany, he came to Rome to perfect his knowledge and was eventually appointed Director General of Roman antiquities. He was one of the first to distinguish original Greek sculptures from Roman copies. He was also a reference for the many writers, scholars and artists who came to Rome on a Grand Tour, and who wrote at length about the famous Apollo.
Today, its graceful stance and serene presence still draws the visitor’s attention. We may view the antiquity with more distant eyes, having less of a blinding passion about it, but we can still appreciate Apollo’s beauty and try to understand why he was such a model.