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Posted on Aug 13, 2009 | 10 comments

Today I went to the Vatican Museums and had the chance to take this lovely photo of one of my absolute favorite sculptures, the Laocoon. This is one of those pieces I first saw back in high school, and one that helped launch my love of art. It’s really a magical work that not only inspired my art historical aspirations, but virtually every major artist of the Renaissance was influenced by the work when it was rediscovered during the 16th century. If you listen to some completely uninformed guides at the Vatican, they’ll tell you it’s by Michelangelo. Absolutely not true!! How hard is it for them to read a book?? It was a theory put forward to generate some press for scholar in my opinion. This marble sculpture from the 1st century AD depicts a serpent coming to kill the Trojan priest Laocoon and his sons, a story told many times, perhaps most famously in Virgil’s Aeneid.

Just look at the muscular forms of Michelangelo’s sculptures (even the Moses) and painted figures on the Sistine and you will see the correlation. Unfortunately the museum is always stuff with hoards that crowd around the piece, so it was some work to get a shot that look tranquil. If you want to see the museums in more solitude, take advantage of the fact that they’ll be open from 7 pm to 11 pm every Friday night in September and October. You can book tickets directly on the museums’ website.


  1. This is one of my favorite sculptures as well..I almost cried when I stood in front of it!

  2. Hello Jessica,

    10 years ago I went to the Vatican Museum, too, and was falling in love with the sculpture "Laocoon".

    I'm a great fan of Italy and spent my youth in "Alto Adige".

    Greetings to a lovely country and to your interesting blog from

    Dirk alias Steven D!

  3. Great picture, Jessica. In many trips to see and many pictures of this wonderful piece, I never thought of a close-up. Guess what I will do next time!
    The story about Michelangelo I heard was that he was asked to replace the arm and did so until they found the real one. I remember seeing a photo of the sculpture with his version hanging near the sculpture with the original arm on it.

  4. I, too, am a huge fan of Laocoon! And when I was writing my book about Michelangelo I talked to a wide range of scholars about the theory that Michelangelo may have faked Laocoon. Actually, there are some leading authorities who told me, "Well, it would explain a lot about that piece…" Personally, I am on the fence. But the mystery only makes me love it even more! 🙂

    Thanks for a gorgeous photo! Did you get to see the Laocoon exhibit 3 years ago for the 500th anniversary of its discovery? It was magnificent!


  5. More than any sculpture in Rome I found this the most memorable. I can remember with perfect clarity the day that I laid eyes on this sculpture. Standing in front of it and pondering the fact that the great geniuses of the renaissance studied the very same piece of marble was almost overwhelming.

  6. Beautiful sculpture, what expression!

  7. I agree Jessica. Like Simone, I got chocked up when I saw it.

  8. Glad to hear you guys like it as much as I do. It really is a fabulous piece. And I know there are some experts who lean in the direction of Michelangelo, but I really don't believe he did anything except the restoration of the hand, which was a common thing for them to have artist's do at the time.

  9. Yes, it's wonderful.

    November to February – the best months for actually seeing things. I remmeber being one of 3 people the first time I saw the Laocoon – it was 20 Dec 1982!

  10. Sally – Good point! And it still holds true.

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