What Is Laocoön And His Sons? | Read This First

Laocoön and His Sons exemplify realistic movement in sculpture. Laocoön and His Sons furiously strive to extricate themselves from the clutches of serpents. However, no matter how much Laocoön and His Sons strain and fight, they remain entangled in the serpent’s grasp in a struggle to the death. Laocoön and His Sons have become the icon of human agony in Western Art.

Why Did Athena Killed Laocoön And His Two Sons?

According to legend, Laocoon and his sons were killed as a punishment from Athena or Poseidon for warning the Trojans about the wooden horse. This is the rationale offered in Virgil’s Aeneid, an epic written by the Roman poet. However, according to other traditions, Apollo sent the serpents to slay Laocoon as a punishment for breaking his vow to the deity not to marry or have children.

The tale of Laocoön revolves around the themes of misinterpretation and godly wrath. The Trojans misread the Greeks’ motives when they hand them the horse. When sea serpents murder Laocoön, the Trojans misinterpret his death as a portent to disregard his warning against the Greeks (Beware of Greeks bearing gifts). Out of vengeance, one of the gods murders Laocoön. Either for disclosing the Greeks’ scheme or for otherwise offending the gods. Laocoön’s death foreshadows the fall of Troy.

When I look at the Greek sculpture i see the oldest son on the right appears to have broken free from the serpents and is looking at his sibling and father, who are both looking at him. Laocoön and the youngest son on the left are in a lot of difficulties, and their expressions show how much they are struggling.

What Does Laocoön And His Sons Portray?

Laocoön and his sons attacked by serpents sent by Athena. Date 1st century AD
Laocoön and his sons attacked by serpents sent by Athena. Date 1st century AD

Since its excavation in Rome and its remains in the Vatican in January 14, 1506 (January 1506), the statue of Laocoon and its Sons, also called Laocoön Group (Italian: Gruppo della laocoon) has been one of the most famous ancient sculptures. It is probably the same statue that the main Roman author on arts, Pliny the Elder, praised in the highest terms. The figures are about 2 m high and show the Trojan priest Laocoön and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus, who were attacked by sea snakes, are somewhat larger.

In Western art, it was called “the prototypical icon of human agony” so this suffering has no redemptive power or reward, as opposed to that often depicted in Christian art, which displays the Passion of Jesus or the Martyrs. They illustrate the suffering in the distorted expressions of the faces (Charles Darwin pointed out the physiologically impossible bulging eyebrows of Laocoön) which are combined with each part of his body, especially that of Laocoön himself.

Then, in the palace of Emperor Titus, Pline attributes the work to three Greek sculptors on Rhodes Island: Agesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus, but it does not date and patronize the island. It is considered in style “one of the finest examples of the Hellenistic baroque” and in Greek tradition, however, it is not known if it is original, or a copy of the earlier bronze sculpture or made for a commission in Greece or Romance. While many still see it as a copied piece of such work, probably made during early Imperial times, as of a bronze original, it is now a work of the 2nd century BC.

Others probably see this as a later-day original work that continued to use the Pergamonian style of two centuries before. In either case, the home of a rich Roman, possibly the Imperial family, was probably commissioned. They suggested different dates, ranging from approximately 200 BC to 1970 AD, although “a Julio-Claudian date (between 27 BC and 68 AD), is preferred”.

Although most of the sculptures were excavated in excellent condition, there are still several pieces missing, and analyzes show that it was restructured in ancient times and since excavation has undergone several restorations. In the Pio-Clementino Museum, part of Vatican Museums where it is on display.

What Is The Story?

The story of Laocoon, a Trojan priest, originated from the Greek Epic Cycle during the Trojan Wars. Sophocles had suffered a tragedy, now lost, and other Greek authors mentioned it, although the events around the serpent attack vary considerably. The most famous account of these dates from between the years of 29 and 19 BC and is perhaps later than the sculpture in Virgil’s Aeneid. Some scholars, however, regard the group as a representation of the scene Virgil described.

The Posedeidon priest Laocoön in Virgil died, having tried to expose the Trojan Horse’s ruse with a spear, with both his children. On the other hand, in Sophocles, he was an Apollo priest who had supposedly been celibate, but who had married. Only the two sons have been killed by the serpents, leaving Laocoon alive. In other versions, he was killed because he had sex with his wife in Poseidon’s temple or just had a sacrifice with his wife present in the temple. The snakes were sent by Posedon in the second group and, in the first group, by Poseidon and Athena or Apollo. The trojans interpreted deaths as proof of the sacred object of the horse. Both versions have quite different morals: Laocoön is punished because he is wrong or because he is right.

The snakes, both biting and narrowing, are likely to be as venomous as in Virgil. Thought like that, Pietro Aretino praised the group in (16th Century) 1537:

“…the two serpents, in attacking the three figures, produce the most striking semblances of fear, suffering and death. The youth embraced in the coils is fearful; the old man struck by the fangs is in torment; the child who has received the poison, dies.”

Pietro Aretino

The older son can escape in at least one Greek storytelling, and the composition seems to allow for that.

The Backstory

Many people in ancient Greece believed in the power of seers and oracles. It was thought that seers could interact with the gods. The story of Laocoön may have served as a reminder to listen to seers and oracles. The story also confirms the unique abilities of people who converse with the gods. The residents of Troy ignored Laocoön’s warning and ultimately lost the Trojan War as a result.

Toward the close of the Trojan War, the Greeks placed a giant wooden horse in front of Troy’s gates. Laocoon marked it with a spear and cautioned the Trojans not to bring the horse inside the city. “I fear the Greeks even when they offer gifts,” he added. Soon after, the Trojans demanded that Laocoon sacrifice a bull to the god Poseidon.

Two enormous serpents came from the water and crushed Laocoon and his kids to death while he was performing the sacrifice near the sea. This occurrence was viewed by the Trojans as a sign of the gods’ displeasure of Laocoon’s forecast. They subsequently brought the horse into town. This action resulted in their demise. Greek troops hid inside the horse and crept out at night to unlock the gates of Troy, allowing the Greek army to invade and destroy the city.

What Does Laocoon Mean?

Laocoon was a seer in Greek and Roman mythology. A priest of the deity Apollo and a foreteller of the future in the ancient city of Troy. He played an important role in the final days of the Trojan War and was killed along with his twin sons, Antiphantes and Thymbraeus.

A Trojan priest, Laocoön and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus, who were attacked by sea snakes after warning the Trojans against the wooden horse.

The group was discovered in the vineyard of Felice De Fredis in February 1506; when Pope Julius II, a passionate classicist, was informed of the discovery, he dispatched his court artists to investigate. Michelangelo was summoned to the site of the statue’s discovery as soon as it was discovered, along with the Florentine architect Giuliano da Sangallo and his eleven-year-old son Francesco da Sangallo, who would go on to become a sculptor and who would later write an account of the event more than sixty years later.

What part of the Laocoön was missing?

Laocoon And His Sons - When the statue was discovered, Laocoön's right arm was missing, along with part of the hand of one child and the right arm of the other, and various parts of snake.
Laocoon And His Sons – When the statue was discovered, Laocoön’s right arm was missing, along with part of the hand of one child and the right arm of the other, and various parts of snake.

When the statue was discovered, Laocoön’s right arm was missing, along with part of the hand of one child and the right arm of the other, and various parts of snake. The older son, on the right, was severed from the other two figures. A portion of Laocoön’s right arm, as well as a portion of one child’s right arm and the right arm of another, were missing from the statue when it was discovered, as were other pieces of the snake. The older son, seated on the right, appeared to be separated from the other two characters. The age of the altar that Laocoön utilized as a seat is still a matter of debate.

Artists and connoisseurs discussed how the lost pieces should be interpreted in the absence of the originals. Michelangelo speculated that the missing right arms were originally bent back over the shoulder after the sculpture was completed. Many others, on the other hand, felt that it was more fitting to depict the right arms stretched outwards in a heroic gesture..

According to Vasari, in approximately 1510, Bramante, the Pope’s architect, launched an informal competition among sculptors to create replacement right arms. The event was judged by Raphael and Jacopo Sansovino was declared the winner by the jury.

Laocoon And His Sons Missing Right Arm - Artabys
Laocoon And His Sons Missing Right Arm

Although the winner’s outstretched arm was used in copies of the original group, it was not attached to the original group until 1532, when Giovanni Antonio Montorsoli, a student of Michelangelo, added his even more straight version of Laocoön’s outstretched arm, which has remained in place until the present day. Following their return from Paris in 1725–1727, Agostino Cornacchini tidied up the group, not convinced of the correctness of the additions but eager to avoid a stalemate. After 1816, Antonio Canova tidied up the group after their return from Paris, not convinced of the correctness of the additions but eager to avoid a controversy.

When Ludwig Pollak, an archaeologist, art dealer, and director of the Museo Barracco discovered a fragment of a marble arm in the back yard of a builder’s yard in Rome, he thought it was a part of the group that had been discovered nearby. Because of its aesthetic closeness to the work of the Laocoön group, he donated it to the Vatican Museums in Rome.

It had been sitting in their warehouses for more than 50 years. In 1957, the museum determined that this bent arm, as recommended by Michelangelo, had originally belonged to this Laocoön and opted to replace it.

The join between the torso and the arm, according to Paolo Liverani, was made possible by a drill hole on one piece that was perfectly aligned with a similar hole on the other piece, despite the absence of any vital portion.

In the 1980s, the monument was deconstructed and reconstructed, this time with the Pollak arm incorporated into the design again. Restored sections of the children’s arms and hands were removed from their bodies.

While disassembling the sculpture, it was possible to see breaks and cuttings, as well as metal tenons and holes for dowels, which indicated that a more compact three-dimensional pyramidal grouping of the three figures had been employed, or at the very least considered, during the time of antiquity.

The Sperlonga statues and the Vatican group “display a similar liking for open and flexible pictorial organization” that “asked for pyrotechnic piercing and suited itself to alterations at the site as well as in new contexts,” according to Seymour Howard.

Venus de Milo Statue by Alexandros of Antioch – The statue was given the name Venus de Milo in honor of Aphrodite’s Roman name, Venus, as well as the Greek island of Milos, where it was unearthed.

Why is Modern Art Considered Trash? – Modern art is frequently contrasted with other artistic forms difficult to grasp and is regarded wasteful. Contemporary art gets increasingly difficult to grasp with the departure of conventional styles. When looking on abstract items or lines on the plane, it’s difficult to determine what the artist intended. Moreover, some contemporary artists fool about often.

Why Is Modern Art Very Difficult To Understand? – Because there are two aspects to “viewing” Modern Art, it is difficult to comprehend. Visual and linguistic components are used in modern art. Your mind tries to convert the “visual” to the “verbal” in all forms of art.

Are Many Modern Artists Lazy Or Lacking Talent? – Modern artists are frequently criticized for being slackers or lacking in skill. Modern painters sometimes appear lethargic or unskilled to the untrained eye. Modern artists, on the other hand, are far from slackers or untalented.

Why Does Modern Art Tend To Look So Abstract? – Because the artist employs their imagination, materials, and techniques to express their vision in ways that past traditions have rejected, modern art has an abstract look.

Pliny’s encyclopedic Natural History (XXXVI, 37) contains a study of Greek and Roman stone sculpture, which he describes as follows:

….in the case of several works of very great excellence, the number of artists that have been engaged upon them has proved a considerable obstacle to the fame of each, no individual being able to engross the whole of the credit, and it being impossible to award it in due proportion to the names of the several artists combined. Such is the case with the Laocoön, for example, in the palace of the Emperor Titus, a work that may be looked upon as preferable to any other production of the art of painting or of [bronze] statuary. It is sculptured from a single block, both the main figure as well as the children, and the serpents with their marvellous folds. This group was made in concert by three most eminent artists, Agesander, Polydorus, and Athenodorus, natives of Rhodes

It is believed that the piece mentioned by Pliny is the one currently on display at the Vatican; nevertheless, scholars have decided that it is most likely a marble copy (or “roman copy” in this case, 6 ft 7, near life-size) of a bronze original. As a result, this marble replica may not be totally accurate to the original because it has undergone extensive restoration. Nonetheless, since its discovery more than 500 years ago, it has been hailed for both its technical expertise and the tremendous emotion it elicited in those who witnessed it.


Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Essay

By contrasting the sculpture with Virgil’s words, the author of “An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry” investigates the distinctions that exist between works of visual and literary creation. He claims that the painters could not truly show the victims’ bodily anguish because it would be too terrible. Instead, they had to communicate their pain while yet keeping their beauty.

Apollo Belvedere

The Apollo Belvedere was a well-known marble sculpture that was created during the Classical period. Since the middle of the 18th century, fervent neoclassicists have considered it to be the best ancient sculpture. Furthermore, for centuries, it has exemplified the ideals of artistic perfection for people living in Europe and westernized sections of the rest of the globe.

Although it was constructed in a Hellenistic fashion, it is now believed that the Apollo was an original Roman work dating back to the Hadrianic period. One of the reasons that academics feel the statue is not a replica of an authentic Greek statue is because it has uniquely Roman footwear. It wasn’t until the late 15th century, at the time of the Italian Renaissance, that it was found again in the middle of Italy. In 1511, it was brought to the Vatican Palace to be on display to a select audience, and it has been there ever since.

Belvedere Torso

The influence of the Belvedere Torso may be seen in a number of Michelangelo’s subsequent works, including the Rebellious Slave and the Dying Slave, both of which were sculpted for the tomb of Pope Julius II. Several ignudi and the figure of Haman in the Sistine Chapel ceiling are inspired by the figurines. Raphael employed Laocoön’s visage for his Homer in the Raphael Rooms, suggesting blindness rather than anguish.

The Octagonal Court of the Vatican Museum

One of the most stunning courtyards in Vatican City is an octagonal courtyard that was formerly known as the Cortile delle Statue. The courtyard, which is likely the oldest component of the Vatican Museums, takes its name from its eight-sided design.

Baccio Bandinelli

Was a prominent Italian Renaissance artist who worked in sculpture, drawing, and painting.


Kubale, V. (2015). Laocoön and His Sons. https://edoc.hu-berlin.de/handle/18452/2051

By Hagesandros, Athenedoros, and Polydoros – LivioAndronico (2014), CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36412978

By Agesander, Athenedoros and Polydorus – Marie-Lan Nguyen (2009), CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9008382

By Photograph: User:Jastrow (2003)Auteur : Jastrow – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112871

By I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9945915

By Wknight94 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6632905

By Gentil Hibou – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11579619

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