Vatican Museum the Pio Clementino
This section of this great complex houses sarcophagi and statues. The first room we enter is the Vestibolo Rotondo, the Round Vestibule (floor plan page 140, n 7 and letter L= Apoxyomenos of Lysippos), where directly in front of us we see a famous statue by Lysippos: the Apoxyomenos.
pictures: Steven Zucker and vestibolo rotondo midnightglory
The marble statue is a Roman copy (1st century BC) of a Greek bronze statue from 320 BC. You can tell by the fig leaf that we are in the Vatican, it’s an addition from later times. The athlete you are looking at is scraping sweat and dirt from his body with his strigil. Lysippos was the last classical sculptor before the advent of Hellenism. He was a contemporary of Alexander the Great, and just like the painter Apelles, Alexander’s court artist. Cicero writes that Alexander wanted to be painted only by Apelles and sculpted by Lysippos. Alexander even forbade other artists to create his likeness. Pliny attributes 1,500 works to Lysippos. The Apoxyomenos, the Scraper was definitely created by Lysippos. It is more of a type than an individual. Lysippos carved his heads smaller than his predecessors did and his bodies more slender. According to the Polyclitus’ Canon the head must be one seventh the size of the whole body. The Scraper’s head is only one eighth of the total length of the body. Pliny wrote that Lysippos followed the painter Eupompos’ lead when he did not use the statues of his predecessors as an example, but nature itself.
We continue to the Cortile Ottagono (floorplan nr. 8)
picture (mouseover): Sebastian Niedlich
This court is home to a number of world famous statues. When we are there, I will make a few explanatory remarks at the edge of the small fountain about Raphael’s Stanze and more in particular Michelangelo’s frescos. There will be no opportunity for that when we are in the Stanze and the Sistine Chapel because it is extremely crowded there. We will limit ourselves to just two statues: the Belvedere Apollo and the sculpture group called the Laocoön.
The Belvedere Apollo
The Apollo is a copy (ca. 130 BC) as well of a bronze statue by Leochares from around 330 BC. (Wikipeda). This type of statue is typical of many Greek statues and dates back to 5th century BC Greek sculpture. Polyclitus wrote a famous treatise: The Canon. It was a theory on the beauty of the human body, in which Polyclitus described man’s ideal proportions. The head, for instance, had to be one seventh the length of the body and the waist one fifth of its height. What the Greek sculptors- and painters – from the fifth century BC did, was to perfect nature, and in this case man. A good example of this is the following anecdote about the Greek painter Zeuxis (but it could just as easily have been a Greek sculptor): Zeuxis was commissioned to make a painting of Helen of Troy – daughter to Zeus and Leda – who was the most beautiful woman in the world. Zeuxis summoned the most beautiful women of the city and looked them over with a critical eye. He selected the five most beautiful ones, and for his Helen on the canvas he chose that part of each of the five naked women that he found to be the most beautiful. This is how he created the perfect woman, albeit on canvas, but still. You will never find a face that is out of the ordinary or a statue of a man or woman with a sagging belly. Individual traits or emotions were completely taboo. Polyclitus carved his statues based on mathematical proportions. After all, these notions on perfection are also found in Plato’s philosophy.
Lysippos is even regarded as a ‘naturalist’. He preferred nature with its imperfections. Lysippos thought it best to depict nature realistically and not idealize it. And yet, the difference between the Scraper that we just looked at and the Apollos is not all that big. All sculptors gave their statues a Greek, i.e. idealized profile, while genitals were always depicted much too small. Even the naturalist Lysippos did this, even though he adjusted the proportions as prescribed by the Canon. Looking at the statue of Apollo, you can see that even at the end of the 4th century Polyclitus’ Canon still played a major role in Leochares’ work.
After the Belvedere Apollo we will look at a statue that even in classical times was described as the best work of art ever: the Laocoön (the face of the son, the priest Laocoön (picture: rcweir), the back and the side (picture: Dimitry B)
Youtube Khan Academy (3.42 minutes)
pictures: glaveppen and JustDom80
As described earlier, the Laocoön was discovered on 14 January 1506 by a man called Felice de Fredi. Lucky Fredi was digging over a vineyard (behinds the San Giorgio Maggiore) when he hit some stones that turned out to be the ceiling of a subterranean room. He immediately informed Pope Julius II, who told Giuliano da Sangallo about the discovery. The latter immediately send his son to find Michelangelo. Giuliano and Michelangelo immediately saw that this was the sculpture group that Pliny the Elder had described as follows:
|A work better than all other paintings and sculptures ever made. Carved from one block of stone by Hagesandros, Athenodoros and Polydoros of Rhodes […]|
Michelangelo and Sangallo were profoundly moved by this discovery. Even though it turned out that Pliny had not been telling the truth. The sculpture did not consist of one, but five blocks of marble, something that Michelangelo abhorred. A real sculptor uses but a single block of marble. If you look at the face of the priest Laocoön, contorted in agony, you are looking at a fundamental change in Greek sculpture. The story about Polyclitus, Lysippos and Leochares that we told above, no longer holds true for this sculpture group. We are now in the Hellenistic period, a period in which emotion was no longer taboo, rather the opposite, as we will see in the next rooms.
pictures: Sergey Sosnovskiy and winding anubis333
The story of the priest Laocoön is about his warning to the Trojans not to bring the big wooden horse inside the city walls. The crowd, however, became angry and killed this nagging fellow and his two sons. The sea serpent that connects the three figures clearly impressed Michelangelo. In his painting, the Entombment, which today hangs in the National Gallery in London, he changed the snake that coils around the three bodies into a cloth. Walt Disney (picture: Mr. Jennings) was also impressed by the snake. In 1534, the painter Titian drew a caricature of the Laocoön.
We now move on to hall 4. In the Hall of the Animals we will see many statues of animals. One of the nicest, at least to my mind, is the statue of a young boy trying desperately to hold on to a goose.
|The hall of the Animal
picture: Samir Mirza
|boy and goose
Instead of continuing straight we will now turn right, and enter a hall shaped like a long corridor to take a look at two sarcophagi (floor plan, n. 1). The first belongs to Constantina; we visited the mausoleum where she lies buried just Saturday afternoon. The second sarcophagus belongs to Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great. She is the one who discovered the cross that Christ died on.
We turn back but this time we go straight toward the Sala delle Muse. This hall houses the famous Belvedere Torso by Appolonios from about 50 BC. This Greek sculptor carved his name on the plinth as you can see here. (picture: jaimedetorres).
The Belvedere torso
1849, oil on canvas, 51.4 x 37.5 cm, groot detail Dahesh Museum of Art, New York
We will take a good look at this statue from all sides. This, by the way, also applies to the Laocoön. If you really imprint it on your memory, you will see this image again quite a few times in the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was deeply impressed by this classical statue and used it for his Ignudy (nudes) on the ceiling.
The position of the hips and the upper legs is used in many figures, albeit painted from many different viewpoints. The statue was carved around 50 BC by Appolonios’ son Nestor, as you can read on the plinth. It is covered in an animal skin, probably a lion skin, because near the left thigh you can see parts of a head that probably belongs to a lion. This is why some people believe this is the torso of Heracles. Ascanio Condivi wrote a biography of Buonarroti that was approved by Michelangelo himself after he had made quite a few comments. In his book Condivi writes that Buonarroti said of the torso: this the work of a man who knows more about nature’. The bundles of muscles, bones and veins are so lifelike that the sculptor, Appolonios, must have had a detailed knowledge of the human anatomy. This greatly impressed Michelangelo, who as a 17-year-old, to restate this fact, dissected corpses to find out what the human body looked like directly below the skin. That was the only way he could carve statues that were true to nature.
We will walk down the long halls toward the south and arrive at Raphael’s Stanze.