The sculpture of Laocoön and his Sons depicts a most violent scene as Laocoön fights to save his sons from giant snakes, constricting their bodies and ripping at their flesh.
As one son breaks away from the snakes, he can be seen looking back, watching his father and brother be killed.
This marble sculpture bears the hallmarks of Ancient Roman design. The sculpture comprises seven marble segments brought together to form one eight-foot-tall hulking representation of the brutality of the Gods.
The sculpture was designed sometime between 42 and 20 BCE by a team of three sculpters: Hagesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus. Although it is believed that this is a Roman original, there exists evidence that it was merely a copy of an original Greek piece.
The key evidence for this claim is that all three of the sculptors to whom the credit is attributed were known copyists, specializing in Greek sculpting.
It is now on display in the Vatican Museum and has been since 2006.
The Vengeful Gods
The story behind Laocoön and his Sons comes from a portion of the Aeneid in which Laocoön attempts to warn the Trojan leaders of the deceit of the Greeks during the legendary siege; but, as he makes his way to meet with them, Athena takes the moment to strike.
Acting on behalf of the Greek forces, Athena sicced two mythical sea serpents, Porces and Chariboea, on Laocoön and his sons. The snakes dug their fangs into their flesh and crushed their bones via construction, although one of the boys (seen on the right) seems to be breaking away.
The Vatican Museum
The Vatican Museum showcases a wide variety of art from Pagan cultures to polytheistic pantheons, most of which centered around the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome, as these two cultures contributed significantly to the evolution of modern Christianity.
Among the other sculptures from antiquity on display in the Vatican is Apollo Belvedere. Apollo Belvedere depicts an idyllic male body, standard for Greek and Roman design, surveying the distance, a sense of pride and confidence exuding from his outstretched arm.
Apollo Belvedere was actually the first addition to the Vatican’s art displays, well before even the foundation of the Vatican Museums.
More from the Great Copyists
There is evidence supporting the theory, which is somewhat of a conspiracy theory, that Hagesander (a.k.a., Agesander) was actually a group of various people. While this, like the similar claim made for Shakespeare, holds no water, there may have been multiple relatives in Agesander’s family bearing the same name.
Agesander worked closely with the other two sculptors with whom he created Laocoön, producing such works as many of the sculptures discovered in Sperlonga, a few pieces on display in the Vatican Museums, as well as of course Laocoön and his Sons.
Conspiracies aside, there is one thing that most historians tend to agree upon in regard to Laocoön and his sons: that, together, Hagesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus created a masterpiece of baroque, Hellenistic artwork, whether they copied it or not.