Photographer's Note

This stunning sculpture is one of the most well-known that has survived from antiquity, and with good reason! It's probably my favorite sculpture, at least of those I have seen personally thus far. Photos just don't do it justice; it is simply magnificent and incredibly lifelike.

It was executed by Athanadoros, Hagesandros and Polydoros of Rhodes, according to Roman author Pliny the Elder, who described it in his writings. Most scholars believe that it dates to around the early first century AD, but dates range from 160 BC to around 50 AD. It depicts the account of Laocoon, a Trojan priest and his sons, Antiphantes and Thymbraeus, who were killed by snakes because Laocoon had warned the Trojan people not to bring the Trojan Horse into the city; he was thus punished by those gods who were pro-Greek for his audacity!

The sculpture was commissioned by a wealthy Roman patron, but exactly who is unknown. In terms of composition, the subject may have been influenced by a play of Sophocles which unfortunately has not survived to the present. This marble group was "rediscovered" at a site near the Golden House of Nero in 1506. It is possible that it belonged to Nero himself. It was then acquired by Pope Julius II and put on display in the Vatican palace, where it remains today, in the courtyard of the Museo Pio Clementio section of the Vatican Museum.

The sculpture was restored somewhat, as the right arm was missing when it was first discovered. There was subsequently much disagreement over how it had been originally rendered (whether the arm was outstretched, as shown in numerous pre-20th century drawings and engravings, or bent back over Laocoon's shoulder). The pope evidently staged a "contest" between master sculptors who were charged with making replacement arms-the eventual victor was Raphael, who imagined the figure to have an outstretched arm. Amazingly, the original right arm was found in 1957 in a builder's yard in Rome! The arm was found to be, in fact, bent back over the figure's shoulder in a position originally suggested by Michelangelo, as it appears today.

The magnificant marble heavily influenced later works of art, particulrly during the Italian Renaissance; Michelangelo was particularly impressed with its scale, having had some experience with monumental sculpture himself! It is believed that many of his later works, such as "the Rebellious Slave" and "the Dying Slave" sculptures were influenced by this ancient one. Even early modern philosophers and poets such as Johan Joachim Winckelmann wrote about it, as did Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, who wrote an essay entitled "Laocoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry." Pliny the Elder described it as "the work to be preferred to all that the arts of painting and sculpture have produced."

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Additional Photos by Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 92 W: 78 N: 1219] (2138)
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