With the reorganisation of the Uffizi gallery, the exit is no longer mid-way down the third corridor, but at the end of it. This brings the Laocoon sculptural group, a 1500s copy of the famous ancient sculpture, once more as a protagonist in the gallery. Located at the end of the third corridor, previously overlooked by most, visitors to the gallery are now forced to walk right up to it in order to leave the building.
|The Laocoon Group, marble copy by Baccio Bandinelli after the Hellenistic original|
|Raphael, portrait of Pope Leo X with cardinals Giulio de Medici and Luigi de Rossi, 1518-1519, Uffizi Gallery|
The original sculpture, from which the group in the Uffizi gallery is a direct copy, is thought to be from the 1st century BC from Rhodes. Pliny the Elder (AD23-AD79), the Roman historian, named three sculptors responsible for the group, Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus. Its fame spread far and wide upon its creation and much was written about it, with great praise. Centuries later in the renaissance period, this original sculptural group was unearthed on 14 January in 1506, in the area close to Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Pope Julius II immediately claimed it as papal property and the sculptural group was placed in the Belvedere courtyard in the Vatican palace, where it remains today.
The sculpture became one of the most influential works of the century. Artists from far and wide came to draw it and etchings were sent to courts all over the continent. The deep pathos, drama and intense emotion of the figures, particularly expressed by Laocoon himself, opened up new avenues of expression in the renaissance world.
|Head of Laocoon, detail of Laocoon Group|
In the Belvedere courtyard of the Vatican museums, home to the original Laocoon, there is also the Apollo Belvedere sculpture, one of the other most beautiful sculptures in the collection, and which embodies the qualities of the classical period. In this sculpture, all emotion is contained and internalised and nothing but calm confidence resonates from the god who has just shot an arrow from is bow (now lacking). The placements of the two great sculptures in the Belvedere courtyard means that you don’t have to move to be able to see them both very well, each of them individually occupying a deep recess in the courtyard but close to one another. Each work perfectly embodies the characteristics of the two most important and strongly different styles from antiquity - Classicism and Hellenism.
|Apollo Belvedere, Roman copy after a Greek bronze|
The sculptural group was commissioned in Rome by the Cardinal for his cousin, Pope Leo X, who wished to gift it to King Francis I of France. After Pope Leo X’s death in 1521, Bandinelli and Cardinal Giulio living in Rome, returned to Florence leaving the marble in Rome. Upon Giulio’s election to Pope in 1525, they both returned to Rome and Bandinelli resumed work on the Laocoon group. Giulio, now Pope Clement VII, no longer had plans to send the work to France, but instead sent it to the Palazzo Medici for the garden. It replaced the bronze Judith and Holofernes group by Donatello which had once been in the garden of the Medici palace but was then taken to the town hall (where it is today) when the family was exiled in 1494.
|Donatello, Judith slaying Holofernes, bronze, late 1450s, Palazzo della Signoria|
|Baccio Bandinelli, Orpheus, 1519, marble, Palazzo Medici-Riccardi|
|Donatello, David, 1440s, bronze, Bargello National Sculpture Gallery|