Did Michelangelo forge this iconic ancient statue?



Historians have struggled to identify the sculptors Pliny named or to determine whether they were from the time of Titus or an earlier period. In 1957 a grotto was excavated near Sperlonga on the coast near Rome. It was located on the site of a villa that was used by Emperor Tiberius (ruled 14-37 AD). Inside, sculptures were found, one of which was signed by Pliny with the same name as the sculptors of the “Laocoon”.

The sculptors obviously lived before Titus’ time. At the time of Sperlonga’s discovery, historians were aware of the sculpture, which was made in the 1880s at the Hellenistic site of Pergamon, Turkey, in the 2nd century. Probably the sculptors, inspired by the Pergamon style, created in the late 1st century BC. The “Laocoon” – perhaps in the form of a marble copy of a bronze original that is now lost. (Emperor Hadrian decorated his villa with works of art from all over the Roman Empire.)

Age symbol

“Laocoon and His Sons” has meant many things for many ages. For the Romans it represented the seeds of the founding of Rome by Aeneas. For Renaissance scholars it was an example of the dynamism and naturalism of Hellenistic art which they so admired.

The statue’s popularity continued over the centuries. Napoleon removed them from the Vatican and installed them in the Louvre in Paris in 1798. In 1816 the sculpture was returned to the Vatican.

In 1905 the antiquarian Ludwig Pollak discovered a marble arm in a sculptor’s workshop near the place where the “Laocoon” was found. In size and style, it resembled the famous grouping.

In 1957, the Vatican Museums authorities finally announced that the fragment was likely to be Laocoon’s famous missing arm, and the fragment was added to the piece. The arm is bent back – as Michelangelo suggested 450 years earlier.


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