120
120
Italian, Rome, early 19th century
After the Antique
LAOCOÖN AND HIS SONS
JUMP TO LOT
120
Italian, Rome, early 19th century
After the Antique
LAOCOÖN AND HIS SONS
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Old Master Sculpture & Works of Art

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London

Italian, Rome, early 19th century
After the Antique
LAOCOÖN AND HIS SONS

Catalogue Note

The Laocoön is one of the most celebrated sculptures of Antiquity. The antique sculpture is believed to be the one praised by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (Pliny, XXXVI, p. 37), though the original date of the work remains unsettled. The depiction relates to a graphic episode in Virgil's Aeneid, Book II, wherein the priest Laocoön and his sons are strangled by portentous serpents after his efforts to prevent the fateful wooden horse from entering the city walls. The scene dramatically prefigures the fall of Troy and conveys the futility of any attempt to resist this fate. There is still debate over whether Virgil's depiction was inspired by this sculpture, or vice versa. 

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. 

RELATED LITERATURE
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

Old Master Sculpture & Works of Art

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London