5 Apollo Belvedere

Title: Apollo Belvedere

Artist/Source: Unknown, possibly Flemish

Date: 18th century

Medium/Technique: red chalk on paper

UCL Art Museum #4723 (Grote Bequest, 1872)

This drawing depicts the Apollo Belvedere (7’ 3” high), a Roman copy of a lost bronze original dated c. 350 325 BC by the Greek sculptor Leochares. The figure represents the Greek god Apollo after his defeat of the serpent Python using a bow and arrow. The figure’s taut muscles indicate that he has just released the arrow. The artist employs red chalk to depict the statue, a drawing technique preferred by a number of Renaissance artists, including Leonardo Da Vinci who used the medium in his own anatomical corpus.

The Apollo Belvedere, or Pythian Apollo, has inspired artists’ anatomical learning since its rediscovery in the fifteenth century. The figure’s contrapposto pose, a standing position whereby the figure has most of its weight on one foot so that its shoulders and arms twist off axis from the hips and legs, has been endlessly copied ever since by artists interested in giving their figures greater animation. Albrecht Dürer used the pose, for example, in his 1504 engraving ofAdam and Eve (see UCL Art Museum #1735). A small plaster replica of the Apollo Belvedere can be seen in the setting of John Flaxman’s self portrait from 1779, where the artist has also placed other trappings of artistic learning such as the human skull (see UCL Art Museum #616).

At the time of this eighteenth-century drawing, Neo-Classicists had developed a renewed interest in the sculpture, considering it to epitomize bodily perfection. The influential art historian and archaeologist Johann Joachim Winkelmann (1717 – 1768) described it as the best example of the perfection of the Greek aesthetic ideal. A glance at the plates to Albinus’ mid-century atlas will confirm the importance of this figure, for Albinus and his artist Jan Wandelaar sought to capture the ideal as well as the typical (see in this pack). The same admiration drove Napoleon to loot the marble sculpture during his campaign of Italy in 1768, taking it back to France in order to display it in the Louvre. It was returned to Italy after Napoleon’s fall in 1815, and is now displayed in the Vatican.


Deborah Brown, "The Apollo Belvedere and the Garden of Giuliano della Rovere at SS. Apostoli" Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 49 (1986).

Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, Taste and the Antique (Yale University Press) 1981.

R. Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity (Oxford University Press) 1969.

Related works:

After Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504, engraving (see UCL Art Museum #1735).

John Flaxman, Self-Portrait, 1779, drawing (UCL Art Museum #616).

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