Statue of Laocoon and His Sons
The Statue of Laocoon and His Sons
The statue of Laocoon and His Sons is a figurative Greek sculpture and Hellenistic art icon displayed in Museo Pio Clementino, Vatican Museums in Rome. Laocoon and His Sons is a marble copy of the sculpture made from bronze. According to Pliny the Elder (79 CE), a Roman writer, the sculpture is a depiction of Laocoon, a Trojan priest, and his twin sons, Thymbraeus and Antiphas being bitten by giant snakes. The sculpture was first revered and seen by the Pliny at the Titus Flavius palace between 39 and 81 CE. Pliny attributed Roman Emperor Titus who later ruled between 79 and 81 CE, to three Greek sculptors from Rhodes Island namely Polydorus, Hagesander, and Athenodoros. Notably, the attribution coincided with similar marbles that have a similar fragment inscription.
The Laocoon and His Sons statue was first discovered in January 1506 buried underneath the vineyard of Felice de’ Fredis in Rome. The exaction was attended by Michelangelo an expert in this field and famous sculptor during the renaissance. Pope Julius II, who was a lover of art, ordered the sculpture to be taken to the Vatican, upon which it was installed in the garden at Belvedere Court. Given a comment by Pliny that the sculpture was superior to all bronze and painting works, the statue had an immense impact on Italian Renaissance art and particularly the Renaissance sculptors. The Laocoon and His Sons sculpture ended up becoming one of the most copied, revered, and studied works of ancient art to ever be displayed (Cummins, 215). It outshined famous Vatican Museum treasures such as Apollonius Belvedere Torso existing in the 1sts and 2nd BCE century and Leocahres’s Beverdere Apollo exiting 330 BCE. Since it was discovered in 1506, there have been attempts to make copies of it including the Baccio Bandinelli who created a bronze version of it. Additionally, Francesco Primaticcio made a bronze casting for King Francis I and is now located in Louvre, Paris. Other copies are also found at the Archeological museum of Odessa and the Grand Palace of Saint John at Rhodes. Because of its enduring fame, in 1799, the statue was removed from the Vatican and installed in Louvre to serve as an exemplar of Neo-classical art. In 1816, it was returned to the Vatican by British authorities after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. In 1957, fragments from four marble groups portraying scenes from Homer’s poem, Odessey, were retrieved at Sperlonga. The discovery site used to be an ancient banquet hall which was formerly used by Emperor Tiberius who ruled between 14-37 CE. One of these fragments is stylistically similar to the Laocoon and His Sons statue. The statue’s right arm which was found missing from the original 1506 discovery was discovered unexpectedly in 1906 in a builder’s home by archeologist Ludwig Pollak in Rome. He believed it was the lost arm and donated it to the Vatican museum where it stayed for 50 years. In 1960, it was verified as the missing arm as it resembled the new arm that had been attached.
Display of the Laocoon and His Sons Statue
The piece is displayed at the Octagonal Court of Museo Clementino Museum located in the Vatican. On the display, one sees a life-size piece comprising of seven unique and different blocks of marble that show Laocoon alongside his two sons Thymbraeus and Antiphantes. The three are surrounded by two giant sea serpents. Laocoon is sitting on an altar and the sculpture depicts him as a rather masculine man. He is struggling to strain his muscles as he tries to free himself from the serpent. His oldest son appears as if he is almost breaking free for the snakes with his eyes looking towards his father’s and brother’s direction. Laocoon and his younger son are in trouble and the expressions on their faces are an indication of their struggle. The younger son cast a final glance at his father but he is nearly dead. Notably, the sculptures show that the serpents try to kill Laocoon and his sons by biting and constricting them. They have coiled themselves around their bodies to appoint where they cannot move. Laocoon’s left hand is next to the serpent’s head. From the display one also notices that some parts are missing including a significant part of the serpent’s body and Laocoon’s right hand. Additionally, a section of the younger son’s right arm and the older son’s right hand are missing.
According to Pliny, the Laocoon and His Sons sculpture is an original piece. Further, Pliny asserts that the sculpture was made using the carving technique from marble. This is even though the sculpture comprises seven interlocking pieces. De consilli sententia is a phrase that was regarded to referring to the commission and not the method of working used by the artists. The names of Polydorus, Agesander, and Athenodoros, were inscribed on one of the sculptures found at Sperlonga pointing that the three masters were not the same people (Rose, et. al 36). Worth noting, the Hellenistic style used to develop the statue indicates the emotional nature of the artists that made it. The artists employed a technique of freely spacing the three main figures of the piece a clear indication of the free-flowing passion. The Greek culture explores lots of themes in ancient Greek culture such as pain and misery. Notably, the artists show Laocoon with his eyes wide open and his face is wrinkled which is a clear indication of agony. The entire piece is not free from pain and agony and one is captivated by the technique applied by the artiste to capture the audience’s attention. It is stunning how Laocoon’s head I bent on one side and his eyes are looking towards the sky with his mouth open, and eyebrows furrowed to produce a baroque effect.
The Laocoon and His Sons style used the renaissance style of art. Renaissance sculptures and paintings were produced in the 14th, 15th, and 16th century in Europe and they combined influences of increased nature awareness, an individualistic perspective about human beings, and a revival of classical learning (Stoenescu, 166). Further, the artists of the renaissance period including Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo made art that was not only complex but also realistic. As evidenced in the sculpture of Laocoon and His Sons, the piece is straightforward and complex in equal measure. One can tell that the sculpture comprises three people and two giants snakes. One is however left wondering who these individuals were and how they found themselves in such a situation. The sculpture leaves a person wanting to know more about the story behind it. Renaissance was the period that immediately followed the Middle Ages which saw great interest revival in values and classical learning in Ancient Rome and Greece, In essence, renaissance art sought to capture the individual experience and the mystery and beauty of the natural world.
The sculpture of Laocoon and His Sons employs various elements that are evident from the piece. As regards lines, the sculpture observes the Law of Continuity, which helps create movement and unity. Although the lines are imagined, they seem to incorporate skillfully with the sculpture and marry well with the rhythm and movement; factors vital to bringing any masterpiece to life. The sculpture does seem to take any definite shape and this is clear from the fact the sculpture cannot be divided into two symmetric halves. Using the Root Phi armature to analyze it, we see how the sculptors organized and designed the masterpiece. Laocoon’s left leg is diagonal making precedence as the main diagonal frame of the piece. It goes from the lower right corner to the upper left side. As regards space, the Statue was 8 feet tall and was made by interlocking seven different marble pieces. Its dimensions were 208cm by 163cm by 112cm. The piece remains invaluable. To date, the marble sculpture remains at the Vatican. In Hellenistic true fashion, its value is in showcasing the realistic depiction of movement. In terms of color, the Laocoon and His Sons were made out of bronze which has a metallic brown color. The texture can be described as less brittle and much harder than that of copper.
Principles of Design
The sculpture of Laocoon and His Sons employs various design elements. Believe it or not, the sculptors who made this incredible piece employed design to come up with the masterpiece. Just like most brilliant ideas, they began with a sketch which they used to develop a dynamic symmetry grid which they used in developing the rest of the masterpiece. Additionally, repetition and rhythm are also evident; when the root phi rectangle diagonals are repeated, a hidden rhythm can be seen throughout the sculpture. When the sculpture is locked into a grid, the main proportion of the sculpture is visible. Emphasis is on Laocoon as he is physique is bigger compared to his sons’. There are many coincidences which help create movement as well as harmony from the top to bottom and side to side.
An analysis of the sculpture of Laocoon and His Sons presented new aspects and ideas about the sculpture which were not obvious. The knowledge regarding the principles of design and elements of art was not as clear but after an in-depth analysis, they became vivid. For instance, it is hard to imagine that art can employ designs such as rhythm, movements, harmony, and balance as they are mostly associated with other forms of art such as music. However, after carrying out this research, it emerged too that sculptures too have such elements. The initial interpretation which I had regarding the sculpture has not changed however, the analysis has provided an in-depth interpretation regarding the myth behind the sculpture which is impossible to tell at the first glance.
In general, I can describe my experience while carrying out this research as exciting and fulfilling. I learned a lot of new information which otherwise I would never have known. Before today, I never knew about the existence of the Laocoon and His Sons sculpture. At first sight, I did not know the story behind the sculpture; I did not even know that the three individuals were a father and his two sons. I was curious to know what happened to these individuals who appeared to have died such a painful death. I excepted that probably, they were prisoners being punished for a mistake. However, upon finishing the analysis, I learned that the Laocoon and His Sons is among the most revered and imitated sculptures in art history and that many sculptors used to develop other sculptures which exist today.
Cummins, Thomas BF. “Toward a New World’s Laocoön: Thoughts on Seeing Aztec Sculpture through Spanish Eyes.” Altera Roma: Art and Empire from Mérida to Mexico, edited by John MD Pohl and Claire L. Lyons (2016): 215-255.
Rose, Herbert Jennings, and Karim Arafat. “Laocoön.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics. 2016.
Stoenescu, Livia. “Pictorial allegory in El Greco’s Laocoön of Toledo.” Res: Anthropology and aesthetics 67.1 (2017): 164-176.
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