Love, Life & Community

What Roman Art Taught Me About Value

While touring Italy I found myself challenged and moved by many of the beautiful art pieces we saw, as great art should move its viewer. I’m not an art scholar, but I would like to reflect on how some of these masterpieces moved me.

I was really challenged to reconsider how I think about things being valuable. Today, when I use the word “valuable”, we think it equates to “perfect”, “beautiful”, and especially “pricey”. But is that really what it means to have value?

I thought so. Actually, I still find myself thinking that way. But I was forced to reconsider when I came across The Belvedere Torso.  It was sitting in the middle of a room, by itself, and people were crowding all around it. Here’s a picture of the piece:

I figured it must be important to be getting so much attention, but I didn’t get it.

It was just a statue of a naked guy. A naked guy without any legs… or arms… or even a head.  It was just an incomplete statue, beaten and battered by time. All I could see was a broken statue.

I almost moved on. But then peer pressure and fear of missing something important kept me back and I started to read the signage and learn more about it.

What makes this statue so special? Well, for one thing it’s ancient (1st or 2nd century) and the Renaissance artists were highly influenced by it.  It’s also mysterious. Without any more than the torso it is impossible to know for sure who the subject was or what he was doing and that mystery makes the torso attractive.

But even that’s not enough to make the statue as famous as it is.  The Belvedere Torso is famous because Michelangelo himself loved it. Michelangelo used to gaze on it for hours, mesmerized by it’s energy, strength, and curves. Michelangelo loved it so much that he modeled many of his works off of it, including several characters in the great Sistine Chapel.

In fact, the Pope himself asked Michelangelo to finish the piece and replace the missing limbs and head, but Michelangelo refused, saying that the broken Torso was too beautiful and too perfect to be altered in any way, even in an attempt to complete it.

It was so easy to hear that and just move on.  Instead I stopped. And thought about it.

I get way too focused on things being right or beautiful or perfect. But Michelangelo loved this piece, in spite of and even because of it being broken.

So often I look at myself and see brokenness. I see failure. I see anger. I see depression. I see insecurity. I see roughness instead of gentleness, jealousy instead of loyalty, dissatisfaction instead of gratefulness.

And when I look further out, to other people in this world, I see even more brokenness, even more hurt, and even more pain.

But my value isn’t dependent on whether I’m beautiful or perfect. Just like the Torso, I am valuable because I am loved. By my family. By my friends. By my community. By God. I am loved no matter my status and thus I am valuable even though I am broken (and I certainly am). I don’t have to be fixed to be valuable. I’m just me – loved.

And that’s the same for you too. You are valuable. You are valuable because at least one person on this planet loves you and admires you. You are valuable because God loves you, no matter what brokenness exists in your life. This world and life itself are valuable, because God loves them.

It’s so simple: “Jesus loves me this I know”, right?

Yet it’s so easy to stop believing that. It’s easy to not know we are loved when battling an illness, physical or mental. Or after being abused or sexually assaulted. Or after a fight with our spouse.  It’s easy to not know our own value, but that doesn’t change the reality.

You are loved. You are valuable.

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