The Italian Almanac

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Laocoon

Italian News / Art - November 7

An Ancient Greek statue that blew Michelangelo's mind when it came out of the Roman soil 500 years ago is to be feted as the icon of the Vatican Museum's celebration of its first half thousand years. The Laocoon group - a dramatic, almost baroque depiction of the death struggles of a snake-entangled Trojan priest and his two sons - exploded into Renaissance Italy in 1506, shaking sculptors' very conception of the possibilities of their medium.

"We picked it as the totemic work that marked the start of this great collection," said Museum Director Francesco Buranelli. "It changed artistic perceptions forever". Accordingly, the show charts the influence which the work exercised on artists as varied as Sansovino, Rubens, Bernini, Arturo Martini and Salvador Dali'.

Arranged in five sections, the show features loans from some of the world's greatest museums - the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the British Museum, Louvre and Hermitage - as well as royal collections like those in Windsor Castle and the Chateau de Fontainebleu.

The Laocoon group was found on Rome's Colle Oppio at the site of Trajan's Baths on January 14, 1506 and immediately recognised by Michelangelo as the famed first-century AD work of Hagesandros, Athanadoros and Polydoros of Rhodes. Pope Julius II, Michelangelo's patron, snapped it up and made it the pillar of the Vatican's statuary collection, along with the serene Apollo Belvedere opposite it.

The Vatican's Laocoon exhibition runs from November 16 to February 28.