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Laocoön and His Sons

Vatican Museums

The most extraordinary sculpture of all is the statue of Laocoön and His Sons (Laocoonte), brought here by Julius II on advice from Michelangelo.

Laocoön and His SonsIt tells the story of the Trojan priest Laocoonte, who had foreseen Ulysses’ treachery and tried to warn his fellow Trojans, heaving a lance at the famous wooden horse that had appeared at the gates of the city.

The goddess Athena, who had been rooting for the Greeks, became angry at his gesture and, to punish him, sent two terrible giant snakes who crushed Laocoonte and his two children. The Trojans interpreted this as a sign from the gods, welcomed the horse into the city and…well, you know the rest.

Laocoön and His SonsIn Roman times the statue might have been inside the Baths of Titus. Centuries later, when it appeared by chance out of the ground, Michelangelo, called by the pope to verify its authenticity, was stunned by the candor of its masterfully worked marble.

He particularly admired the ability of the sculptor who had been able to free such dramatic expression from the marble.

According to the great artist, the stone already contained the essence of the statue; it lay within the sculptor’s talent to liberate it so that it could show all its dramatic power.