Male torso art is usually a true display of the classical male body standard most worthy of admiration. Along with ancient Greek statues of warrior-athletes, the Doryphoros, or “Spear-Bearer,” established a standard of male beauty that abides today in the West: the muscular, athletic mesomorph. Although common in art—from Michelangelo’s David (1501–1504) to Arno Breker’s fascist sculptures—the physique depicted was considered unattainable until very recently.
The notion of muscularity was reintroduced to the world in the mid-16th century, with the discovery of what came to be known as the Farnese Hercules, a Roman copy of an ancient Greek sculpture. But, it had an extremely limited influence until the current era. Only after the myths surrounding muscle—that it contributed to heart disease, made one slow and inflexible, and was not something produced through training but was instead a God-given marker of a low caste—were debunked did it become a marker of health and prosperity.
1. Apollonios’s Belvedere Torso
The Belvedere Torso is a fragmentary marble torso kept in the Pio-Clementino Museum in Rome, in the courtyard of the Belvedere which gives it its name. This sculpture is one of the most famous male torso artworks. He exerted a considerable fascination on artists from the beginning of the sixteenth century; many artists came to draw him from every possible angle. Michelangelo's admiration for him became commonplace in the literature of the time.
The Torso inspired, among others, some of the ignudi (characters) of the fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the Day of the Tomb of Giuliano de Medici in Florence, and the Victory of the Palazzo Vecchio.
2. Laocoön and His Sons
The Laocoon group is a Roman marble copy of an ancient Greek bronze sculpture depicting the Trojan priest Laocoon and his two sons being attacked by snakes, featuring several male torsos. It is kept in the Pio-Clementino Museum, Vatican, in the Vatican Collection, Belvedere. It is made of fine-grained marble. Contrary to popular opinion, the group is not made from a single block of marble, but from eight blocks. It is 2.42 m high and 1.60 m wide. The scene is described in the Odyssey and the Aeneid. It is one of the most representative works of Hellenistic art. It is designed for a single viewpoint.
It is attributed to Agesandros, Polydoros, and Athenodoros according to Pliny the Elder. This work reflects the great technical mastery of the three Rhodian sculptors. The research of the detail in male torso artworks, in particular in the anatomy and the musculature shows the Greek heritage.