The Laocoön


The Laocoön is a Roman sculptural copy of an original Greek bronze and is located in the Vatican Museums.


According to Pliny, the statue was made by Hagesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus, three sculptors from the Greek island of Rhodes. Discovered on the Esquiline Hill in Rome in 1506, the marble copy was missing its right arm. Competitions were held to try and produce a replacement arm, which included input from artists such as Michelangelo. In 1906 an arm was discovered by the director of the Museo Barracco. The arm was donated to the Vatican Museums, where fifty years later the arm was authenticated as part of the Laocoön group. 

The sculpture depicts a Trojan priest, Laocoön, and his two sons, Antiphantes and Thymbraeus. Laocoön had famously warned the Trojans about the ‘Greeks bearing gifts’, namely the Trojan Horse. The sculpture depicts what occurred as a result of this and is described by Virgil in his poem the Aeneid. As the story goes,  Laocoön threw his spear at the wooden horse. To avoid Laocoön discovering what was inside the horse, Poseidon, who was supporting the Greeks, sent sea serpents to strangle Laocoön and his sons. 

This sculpture holds an extra importance in Rome. As mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, Aeneas listened to Laocoön’s warning and fled Troy, which would lead to the eventual founding of Rome. This sculpture is one of the prized possessions of the Vatican Museums and should be one of the most sought after experiences of any traveling art lover.

Did you know?:

One of the first to visit the excavation site of the marble statue was Michelangelo and the position of the missing arm that he had suggested turned out to be correct. These pieces of information coupled with his mastery of the art form lead to the playful idea that was put forward by Johnathan Jones, that Michelangelo may have been the man responsible for the creation of the marble copy of the Laocoön group.

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