Fragment-based sculpture of the human figure in wood or stone, of which the torso is an example, is as old as the art of sculpture itself. The origin of the modern term torso – a word of Italian origin meaning trunk, a tree without branches or roots – must be sought in the Italian Renaissance.
One such sculpture was to be found in the Palazzo Colonna in Rome in around 1430. However it was only in the sixteenth century that it was given any real consideration by the art world and had any impact: the Torso of Belvédère. It is a larger than life male torso which for many years was thought to represent Hercules.
The sculpture embodies a sense of movement – the trunk is twisted in relation to the hips – but it lacks a head and arms and the legs are broken below the knees. The sculpture is currently on display at the Museo Pio-Clementino in the Vatican City. A copy can be found in Het Depot Sculpture Gallery. No sculpture from Antiquity has had such an impact on artists’ imaginations as this torso. In fact it was considered so important that it became the symbol of the art of sculpture and not only that: it became the symbol of art.
The human figure has been used throughout the ages as a symbol and metaphor for the visualisation of general living ideals. In the last century, sculptors used the torso to communicate their own vision of art and their view of mankind. Concentrating on one aspect of the form can furthermore provide a fine balance between the figurative and the abstract.
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