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While digging in his vineyard on the Esquiline Hill, near the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, a farmer began to uncover pieces of marble statuary. A large trench was cut around the statuary fragments to allow closer examination of the nine pieces, which appeared to belong to a sculptural composition that included a life-size figure. Word of the discovery quickly reached Pope Julius II, who promptly dispatched the architect Giuliano da Sangallo, and the artist, Michelangelo, to inspect the new discovery. Though ancient sculptures were regularly pulled from the ground in Renaissance Rome, this find proved to be of extraordinary interest. Almost immediately, the fragments were identified as belonging to the Laocoon, a sculpture that had stood in the palace of the ancient Emperor Titus and that was known to Renaissance humanists because it received the highest of praise from the first-century writer, Pliny the Younger, in his volume, The Natural History.
Finding the Laocoon was a dream come true for well-educated Renaissance artists and patrons who were intent on restoring Rome to its ancient glory. At the very moment in which the idea of "Rome Reborn" was being made manifest in citywide art and architecture projects, the Laocoon emerged from the earth, further fuelling the Renaissance dream of returning Rome to its ancient glory. By March of , Pope Julius II managed to procure the sculpture for his own antiquities collection, and in July of the same year he triumphantly transported the sculpture through the streets of the Rome, which were lined with throngs of citizens who showered the sculpture with flower petals. Julius even ordered the Sistine Chapel Choir to serenade the sculpture as the procession made its way to the Belvedere Courtyard of the Vatican Palace.
Without a doubt, the Laocoon was the prize of the century. Once the sculpture arrived in the Belvedere Courtyard, it set off a flurry of attempts to restore it both Laocoon and his youngest son were missing their right arms , as well as efforts to emulate its admirable aesthetic qualities. Every artist working in early sixteenth-century Rome was certainly aware of the sculpture. Asked to create new arms for Laocoon and his son, Michelangelo declined, claiming his talents to be less than those of the Greek sculptors who created the work some years earlier.
The architect, Donato Bramante, hosted a contest amongst artists to make a wax copy of the sculpture, and that contest - won by the Venetian architect Jacopo Sansovino - was judged by the painter Raphael. The ancient Laocoon exerted a potent aesthetic power on the artists of the High Renaissance. The rediscovery of the sculpture - which depicts a Trojan priest punished by the gods for warning his fellow countrymen about the Greek ruse of the Trojan horse - accelerated the rediscovery of the classical aesthetic. The Laocoon became a standard against which Renaissance art was judged, thereby establishing a canon of beauty that influenced the making of art for the next years.
Almost without a doubt, the artist most influenced by the sculpture was Michelangelo, whose representation of the human figure in motion was fundamentally changed by his study of the Laocoon. His response to the sculpture was not that of simply copying its form or composition, however. Rather, he incorporated the qualities of the sculpture that he found most compelling into his own artistic style. Michelangelo's oeuvre clearly demonstrates that he was intrigued by the sculpture's muscular tension and by the spiraling motion of the central figure as he struggles to free himself from the strangling snakes. On the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Michelangelo created numerous figures with similarly muscular anatomies and placed them in serpentinata positions that recall that of the central figure in the Laocoon.
And, Michelangelo found the physical struggle portrayed in the sculpture to be evocative of the psychological challenges faced by Neoplatonic thinkers like himself, who struggled to raise their minds above the challenges presented by the physical demands of their bodies. It was found at the Esquiline Hill in Rome in The attribution originated with the ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder, who recorded the sculpture as being in the palace of Titus and described it as 'of all paintings and sculptures, the most worthy of admiration'. Soon after its discovery Pope Julius II installed the sculpture at the Villa Belvedere along with the rest of his collection of Roman sculpture, which also included the Apollo Belvedere and the Belvedere Torso. During the Napoleonic Wars the original sculpture was ceded by Pope Pius VI to the French in under the Treaty of Tolentino, and was sent to Paris, arriving in as part of a triumphal procession.
The original statue has a complicated history of restorations. There are various deliberations about whether Laocoon's arm should be bent or as it is now straight. When the statue was removed to France the restorations were removed and replaced by casts from a late 17th century cast of a model whose arms were supposed to be by Giradon. Enjoy five blissful minutes of mindfulness and art with this guided meditation. Do an advanced search in works of art , names , books , exhibition catalogues , archives , or frames. News and blog Filter Podcasts Videos.