The Laocöon, after Marco Dente, after a Roman copy of a Hellenistic statue, 1st century B.C.
49.2 cm x 32.7 cm (19 3/8 in. x 12 7/8 in.)
(Thionville or Lunéville, France, 1507 or 1515 - circa 1565, Rome)
Medium and Support:
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1990
In the great Hellenistic statuary group known as the Laocöon, the Trojan high priest and his sons are strangled by serpents. A sensation from the moment of its discovery in Rome in 1506, the group inspired countless artists to copy its complex postures, tortured anatomy, and extraordinary virtuosity. Within a decade of the discovery, Marco Dente had interpreted its forms as a reproductive engraving. Two generations later, Beatrizet’s version would translate Dente’s work into one governed by an even more arbitrary, almost abstract pattern. This print epitomizes Mannerist delight in artful departure from natural appearance.
It shows attention to accuracy and at the same time a distance from antique sources. The classical backdrop has been replaced with an abstract background of horizontal lines, which focuses the viewer’s attention on the prototype as an object. Moreover, Beatrizet recorded the precise appearance at the time, indicating missing fingers and limbs, as well as the 1540 restoration of the central figure’s right arm. This engraving is part of an encyclopedic group of prints, the Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae [The Mirror of the Splendors of Rome], that reproduce the wonders of contemporary and ancient Rome as they had survived and appeared to the modern visitor.