In his epic poem the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil depicted the story of the Trojan priest Laocoon, who was killed by giant snakes, along with his two sons Antiphas and Thymbraeus. During the Trojan War, when the Greeks left the huge wooden Trojan Horse on the beach unattended, the Trojans thought that the Greeks have fled and planned to pull it inside the walled city.
As the jubilant Trojans were in the mood of celebration, Laocoon thought otherwise. Sensing it as a possible trap, he tried to warn the Trojan leaders against the decision. However, as the Greek goddess Athena was the protector of the Greek, she punished Laocoon for his interference in the matter and having him and his two sons attacked by Porces and Chariboea, the two gigantic sea serpents.
The monumental statue of ‘Laocoon and His Sons’ depicts the horrible scene of sufferings of the helpless Trojan priest and his two sons, based on Virgil’s Aeneid. In the sculpture, one of the sons is detailed as break free from the snakes and looking across to see his father and brother in their death agonies.
Despite persistent uncertainty as to its date and details of its original provenance, the ancient statue of Laocoon and His Sons is considered as an icon of Hellenistic art. The statue, which imparted a significant impact on Italian Renaissance art in general and Renaissance sculpture in particular, was discovered in January 1506, buried in the ground of a Rome vineyard owned by Felice de’ Fredis. Michelangelo, the famous Renaissance sculptor, was one of the first experts to attend the excavation site and reported about it to Pope Julius II. As the Pope was a great lover Greek art, he ordered the work to be brought immediately to the Vatican, where it was installed in the Belvedere Court Garden.
Within a very short time, the Laocoon and His Sons became one of the most studied, revered and copied works of ancient art ever put on display and it outshone the other famous treasures in the Vatican Museum. However, in 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte removed the statue from the Vatican, took it to Paris and installed it in the Louvre, as an ideal example of neoclassical art.
Nevertheless, he could not keep it there for a long time, as it was returned to the Vatican in 1816, by the British authorities in Paris, following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.
Four centuries after the discovery of the statue of Laocoon and His Sons in 1506, the missing right arm of Laocoon was accidentally discovered in a builder's yard in Rome in 1906 by archeologist Ludwig Pollak, director of the Museo Barracco, who donated it to the Vatican Museum. Strangely, the arm remained there unattended for more than fifty years, when in 1960 the statue was reassembled with the new arm attached, after it was methodically verified by the museum experts.
Standing around eight feet in height, the Laocoon statue is made from seven interlocking pieces of white marble. The exact date of creation of the magnificent statue is unknown, however experts believe that it was sculpted between 42 and 20 BC. In fact, it is also not known for certain, whether it is an original Roman sculpture or a copy of an earlier Greek sculpture. Experts also think that in all probability, the Vatican Laocoon is a copy of a Greek Hellenistic bronze