The antique sculpture was first discovered in 1506 on the property of Felice de' Freddi near S. Maria Maggiore in Rome. Shortly after its discovery, it was purchased by Pope Julius II and taken to the Belvedere, where it remained until seized by the French, along with a great many other important antiquities, under the terms of the Treaty of Tolentino in 1797. In Paris it was exhibited in the Musée Central des Arts. In 1815, Italy secured the repatriation of its antiquities, and the Laocoön was returned to Rome in 1816, and returned to the Belvedere courtyard. It remains in the Vatican today (Cat. 1059).
The impressive sculpture attracted immediate attention in Rome. In 1510, according to Vasari's Life of Raphael, Donato Bramante challenged four of the city's foremost sculptors to make wax models of the Laocoön, to be judged by Raphael (Vasari, VII, p. 489). The model by the young Jacopo Sansovino was judged the most accomplished by far and was cast in bronze for Cardinal Grimani. By 1523, Baccio Bandinelli was working on his magnificent full-size marble copy, commissioned by Pope Leo X as a gift for Francois Ier (Uffizi). Further large scale copies were executed by, among several others, Jean-Baptiste Tuby (1696, Versailles) and the Kellers, under Girardon's direction (acquired by Sir Robert Walpole's son Robert and installed in the great hall at Houghton in Norfolk). The sculpture's realism, gripping force and emotional complexity prompted countless imitations throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, of which the present item is a fine example.
G. Vasari, Le Opere, ed. by Gaetano Milanesi, 9 vols, Milan, 1878-85 (repr. Florence, 1973); F. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique. The Lure of Classical Sculpture, New Haven/ London, 1981, pp. 243-7
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