Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Length: 30.000 cm
Gift of Thomas Hollis, 1758
P&E MLA 1758,5-5.1
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Wax model of the Laocoon
Probably French, late 17th or first half of the 18th century
The group depicts Laocoon, a Trojan prince and priest of Apollo, and his two sons. According to legend, they tried to stop the Trojans from opening the city gates to the Greeks' gift of a wooden horse, but were killed by serpents from the sea.
The model is a copy of a late Hellenistic (Greek) marble of the group, now in the Vatican Museum. This was rediscovered in Rome in January 1506, causing immense excitement. It was bought by Pope Julius II who had it displayed in the Belvedere with other sculptures considered to represent the essence of Greek idealistic art. It remained there until it was taken to Paris in 1798, having been ceded to the French in the Napoleonic wars. After Napoleon's defeat, the marble returned to Rome in 1816.
For several centuries the Laocoon group ranked with the Apollo Belvedere as one of the finest surviving sculptures from the ancient world. Copies of the Laocoon group were made in all sizes and media, often bronze, but this fine red beeswax copy is very unusual. It is uncertain exactly when it was made or for whom, but in May 1758 the collector and antiquary Thomas Hollis (1720-74) presented it to the British Museum.
K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)
F. Haskell and N. Penny (eds.), Taste and the Antique: The Lur (Yale University Press, 1922)