Another one of the greatest sculptures in the world, also found in Italy at the Vatican, is the “Laocoön”, also known as “Laocoön and his Sons”. This without a doubt is one of the toughest words to read then sound out- It’s pronounced LAY-OCK-OWE-ON, and here it is:
The statue depicts the ancient story of Laocoön, who was a priest of the god Poseidon in Troy. He tried in vein to warn the Trojan’s of the Trojan horse, and for his actions 2 sea serpents were sent to kill him. Here we see the unlucky guy and his 2 sons, locked in a violent battle- one they will loose- against the serpents. At first glance, it is a stunning work of art. The amount of shear action crammed into the work is unbelievable. The serpent appears to be writhing as the figures turn and twist their bodies to free themselves. Their faces are filled with pain and suffering, and the muscles tense under their flesh. Just look at the muscles in the Laocoön’s torso, and the intricate carving of his hair and beard. A reason why so many old statues depict figures standing stoic and still is because it’s a much more reasonable kind of sculpture to make. The Laocoön is insane. Whoever made it had some serious skill. This is the kind of sculpture more commonly seen from the likes of Bernini, some 1600 years later.
The “Laocoön” is old, probably made in Greece at around the time of Julius Caesar and at some point brought to Rome. It’s not known if this particular statue is Greek or if it is a Roman copy. Most historians seem to believe that later, that artists in ancient Rome admired it so much that they made their own version for the eternal city. While there are still many mysteries about its origins, a few things are known about how it got to where it is today. It was found, as many such sculptures were, in ancient Rome and brought to the Vatican, where then Pope Julius II took a great liking to it (Julius II is the same pope who later commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel). When it was found, a few arms and hands were missing, so he requested that artists be brought in to restore it. The restorers imagined the missing arms to be facing up, as seen here-
It looked this way until 1906, when a random chunk of discovered arm was found in Rome that fit the Laocoön. The replacement bits were removed, and today you can see the original arm in a slightly different color reattached. The statue was revolutionary when it was discovered in the Renaissance. Artists at that time had a new-found fascination with the ancients, and the Laocoon instantly became something of a measuring stick for art. Sculptors and painters now had an extraordinary work that they could look too. It’s influence is seen in the work of many artists. The greatest of these is Michelangelo, who had huge respect for it and studied it intently.
One of many modern theories surrounding the Laocoön is that Michelangelo himself forged it, which would explain both it’s amazing condition compared to so many other ancient statues and it’s uncommon and undeniable brilliance. Michelangelo was around Rome and the Vatican at the time of its discovery, working on his “Pieta”. It’s highly unlikely that he had time to forge it, but given the genius of Michelangelo, who could put it past him? Either way, the “Laocoön” is a truly amazing sculpture and a real highlight of the Vatican tour.