Study after a Plaster Cast of the Apollo Belvedere

black chalk drawing of man's head lying horizontally, with thick hair

Study after a Plaster Cast of the Apollo Belvedere, ca. 1814
Black chalk on laid paper
32 x 34.5 cm
Signed and dedicated lower right in David’s hand, David à son ami Cuvier; inscribed lower left in a different hand, N. 87-1814
Collection Louise Grunwald

Cat. 1

Long considered an exemplar of ideal classical beauty, the full-length ancient marble statue known as the Apollo Belvedere (Vatican Museums, Rome) was widely copied by early nineteenth-century art students. In this drawing, possibly a comment on the distance between the classical tradition and modern life, David shows only the face of the god, lying across the page like a fragmented artifact or death mask. Later, he would claim: “I prefer an ugly head that thinks profoundly to a head copied after the antique because [in the latter] the lines are so pure that it is petrified in its nullity.” Dedicated to the French zoologist Georges Cuvier (1769–1832), David’s Apollo recalls the fossils that were crucial for that scientist’s theories of animal life.