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Title Laocoön
Material and technique Black chalk, pen and brown ink, heightened with white (partly oxidised)
Object type
Drawing > Two-dimensional object > Art object
Location This object is in storage
Dimensions Height 396 mm
Width 298 mm
Artists Artist: Anoniem
Previously attributed: Marco Dente
Accession number DN 111/8 (PK)
Credits Gift Dr A.J. Domela Nieuwenhuis, 1923
Department Drawings & Prints
Acquisition date 1923
Creation date in circa 1506-1511
Watermark Drieberg (26 x 20 mm, l.m.o. on P? of?P, vH), somewhat similar to Briquet 11654 and 11661 (resp. Vicenza 1449, Neurenberg 1487; Bologna 1507-10) [see image]
Inscriptions 'C 117' (on old top sheet, red chalk?)
Collector Collector / Adriaan Domela Nieuwenhuis
Mark G. Vallardi (L.1223, L.1223a, no. C 117), A.J. Domela Nieuwenhuis (L.356b)
Provenance Giuseppe Vallardi (1784-1863, L.1223/1223a)**, art dealer, Milan, his no. C 117; - ; Dr. Adriaan J. Domela Nieuwenhuis (1850-1935, L.356b), Munich/Rotterdam, donated with his collection in 1923 (Marco Dente)
Exhibitions Rotterdam 1997-98; Sydney 1999
Internal exhibitions Rondom Raphaël (1997)
Research Show research Italian Drawings 1400-1600
Highlight > Painting technique > Technique > Material and technique
Geographical origin Italy > Southern Europe > Europe

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Entry catalogue Italian Drawings 1400-1600

Author: Surya Stemerding

This drawing is of the Hellenistic statue of Laocoön and his two sons being attacked by sea serpents. The sculpture was unearthed in 1506 and is now in the Vatican Museum. Laocoön was a Trojan priest who tried in vain to warn the residents of Troy against the wooden horse with which the Greeks would go on to destroy the city. According to Greek mythology, he and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus were punished by the sea god Poseidon, who set two sea serpents on them. After a dramatic fight with the serpents, all three were killed.

As it is in the statue, one of Laocoön’s arms is missing in the drawing, and for this reason it was originally attributed to Marco Dente (1493-1527), the artist of an engraving in which Laocoön likewise misses an arm.[1] In that print, however, the sons’ arms are also missing, the coils of the serpents are different and the group is shown from a lower viewpoint. This means that the drawing probably has nothing to do with the engraving.

The absence of Laocoön’s arm in the drawing indicates that it was probably done before 1532. In that year the sculpture was drastically restored and Laocoön’s missing arm was added in a position that is now known not to have been the original.[2] Earlier, in 1510 and 1520, reconstructions of the missing arm were made in wax by the sculptors Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570) and Baccio Bandinelli (1488-1560) respectively. These reconstructions have meanwhile been lost. Commissioned by the pope, in 1520-25, Bandinelli also made a marble copy of the Laocoön group, which is now in the Uffizi in Florence.[3] In that one the sons’ arms have been completed, too, something that was probably also done to the group in the Vatican around 1520.[4]

It is the fact that the group is not yet standing on the base on which it was placed in 1510-11 that chiefly points to an earlier date for the drawing.[5] The Rotterdam sheet is thus one of only three drawings of the Laocoön group that date from before or around 1510.[6] The earliest is a drawing by Giovanni Antonio da Brescia (1460-1525), made not long after the excavation. It is quite clear that the damaged statue has been propped up temporarily.[7] Another drawing, probably by Marcantonio Raimondi (c.1480-c.1534) and likewise dated around 1510, is in Budapest.[8] The Rotterdam drawing differs from these two, showing, as it does, the sons with arms. The artist evidently reconstructed them on the basis of the positions of the still intact parts of the limbs.


[1] Bartsch XIV.268.353.

[2] Restoration by G.A. Montorsoli. The find of what was probably the original arm in 1906 confirmed that it was originally bent upwards, with the hand against the head. Buranelli 2006, pp. 119-200; Howard 1959, pp. 365-69.

[3] There are no indications that Montorsol looked at Bandinelli’s copy in his reconstruction of Laocoön’s arm.

[4] According to descriptions by Venetian ambassadors in 1523, the sons’ arms had already been put on by then. Buranelli 2006, p. 37.

[5] Bartsch in: Buranelli 2006, p. 127 under no. 12.

[6] Based on stylistic characteristics, Marzia Faietti suspects that the drawing was made by a printmaker in Marco Dente’s circle, and the white highlights are a later addition. Written communication, 2019.

[7] Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum, inv. FP 7032.

[8] Szépművészeti Múzeum, inv. 58.983; Budapest 1998, no. 15, ill.

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