A Masterpiece for the Ages: Laocoön and His Sons

October 18th, 2013 | posted by Bill Rau

Artistic influence comes in many forms through numerous disciplines. One work of art, in particular, has influenced some of the greatest artistic minds in history. Inspired by the writings of Homer and Virgil, admired by Pope Julius II,

This awe-inspiring marble sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons is one of the few pre-1780 renditions not currently in a museum.

This awe-inspiring marble sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons is one of the few pre-1780 renditions not currently in a museum.

Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens, Francis I, and even Napoleon,Laocoön and His Sons is truly a timeless masterpiece.

This incredible 18th-century Laocoön and His Sons is one of only a handful of pre-1780 interpretations ever created, and dates between 1650-1780. With the other known early examples now part of the Uffizi Museum of Florence and the Grand Palace in Rhodes, this is arguably the most important sculpture currently on the market. Crafted of exquisite Carrara marble, this incredible sculpture embodies the dynamic, masterful execution of the original housed in the Vatican.

Standing over five feet high, this imposing work of art captures the powerful emotion of Laocoön, a tale intertwined with the legend of the Trojan Horse. After an unsuccessful 10-year siege of Troy, the Greeks left a supposed “peace offering” outside the city’s gates–a giant wooden horse that was unknowingly filled with Greek soldiers. The Greek soldier Sinon was sent with the horse to explain the unusual gift, and it was Laocoön who was unconvinced of the story, and began to warn the people of Troy with the famed statement “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” It was then that the goddess Minerva sent sea serpents to kill the priest and his sons to assist her beloved Greeks siege of the city.

Heralded by Michelangelo as the “greatest piece of art in the world,” the original Laocoön and His Sons was created circa 35 B.C. on the island of Rhodes and was later discovered in 1506, immediately becoming one of the most famed works of art in the Western world. Pope Julius II purchased the statue and brought it to the Vatican. When the statue was excavated, the figure of Laocoön was missing its right arm, so the Pope summoned all of the famed sculptors of the day, including Michelangelo and Raphael, to submit ideas on how the arm should look. While most believed it should be outstretched, Michelangelo believed it would have been bent. Michelangelo was out-voted, and an extended arm was created to repair the missing appendage. By miraculous circumstances, the original arm, a bent arm, was unearthed. Michelangelo was proven correct over four centuries later!

From his work The Dying Slave and his amazing marble of Moses, to the figures on the famed Sistine Chapel ceiling, all were directly influenced by Laocoön. Michelangelo was far from the only artist to be inspired by this majestic work. Titian, Caravaggio and Rubens all found inspiration in this masterpiece. The sculpture also influenced literary authors from Dante to Dickens, the latter of which includes, in his famed A Christmas Carol, a description of Scrooge “making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings,” rushing to get dressed on Christmas morning.

To view M.S. Rau Antiques’ entire selection of important sculpture, click here.

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