In search of antiquity. The 18th century traveler in Rome.

 

The mystery of Greek art. - The Laocoon group.

 

The united Greeks held Troy under deadly siege while the brave and desperate Trojans refused to surrender, knowing well that surrender meant death or slavery for all.  After a full decade, the Greeks left a giant wooden horse as a gift to honor the fortitude of their enemy and appeared to have abandoned the field.  A Trojan priest, Laocoon, suspected that the wooden horse the Greeks offered was hollow, a trick, and warned against accepting the sweetness of survival and the blessings of peace.  Poseidon, Greek god of the sea, wanted the Greeks to be victorious and sent poisonous snakes to silence LaocoonÕs warning voice.

 

The Hellenistic sculpture of Laocoon and his two sons battling PoseidonÕs snakes, The Laocoon, is one of the most influential and famous works of art in all the world. The over life-size statue shows Laocoon and his two sons in ideal nudity enwrapped by huge snakes, one about to bite in to LaocoonÕs side. The physical beauty of the bodies, their dramatic gestures and the expression of pain in the face of dying Laocoon make an indelible impact on the viewer.  We know the names of the sculptors who crafted it, around 200 BC, in Pergamum, Asia Minor, (source of the famous Persimmon Altar, a main archeological attraction in Berlin).  The Romans admired it. Emperors had it copied and authors described the group, but the sculpture itself didnÕt seem to exist.

 

When a marble copy was rediscovered in Rome in 1506 it was a sensation. The discoverers were granted lifelong pensions by the Pope in return for gifting the statue to the Vatican. It greatly influenced Michelangelo and the other grand masters of the 17th century Baroque.  It was one of the main reference points for famous scholars on art and art-theory in the 18th century, and a must-see on the Grand Tour.  Today especially, visitors to Rome gaze in awe at this mysterious, powerful, dramatic eternal work of great art.