Michelangelo’s Laocoon?

Or should we say Jessica’s Laocoon? Following are questions Jessica has culled from the article for Monday’s reading. Blog away!

1)Catterson states that the Laocoön was instantly recognized as the work described in Pliny’s account being “preferable to any other production of the art of painting or of statuary,” even though the sculpture contrasts Pliny’s account (made of 7 pieces instead of 1). Do you think Renaissance audiences were oblivious to this fundamental difference, or were they willing to disregard it for the sake of the discovery?
2)On page 35, Catterson presents a rather provocative theory concerning Michelangelo’s rapid disappearance from Rome only 3 weeks after the discovery. Were you convinced by this, or did you think it was a bit of a stretch?
3)Catterson suggests the difficulties of recognizing forgeries is attributable to the “stylistically anti-personal” nature of the works. In light of this, what do you think the theoretical process was for identifying forgeries during the Italian Renaissance? To what extant did the paranoia for forgeries exist during the period?
4)Hypothetically speaking, what do you think Michelangelo and other Renaissance artists would have gained from engaging with forgery? Was this a serious crime?
5)Overall, did you find Catterson’s argument to be a convincing one, why or why not?


4 responses

  1. I thought that this article was definitely interesting and engaging to read.

    Question 4: It seems that one would be motivated to by money to create forgeries, as antique works would have been quite valuable. Catterson also states that the “role as patron can surely be defined as the catalyst” in the creation of forgeries (31). Patrons would have the ability to provide not only money but also the favor of those in power to artists who cooperated in the creation of a forgery.

    Question 5: At first I thought that the argument was rather far-fetched. But it became more convincing due to the specificity of the details that Catterson provides about things like bank accounts and marble orders. However, as the article progressed, I was less convinced by the comparisons of the Laocoön to other works of art. In order to better evaluate the argument, I think it would be helpful to know how other scholars in the field view this topic. Is Catterson the only person to present this argument or do others agree?

    • I am very eager to hear what other students think about this article. Hannah poses a very good question—who else has jumped on this bandwagon? To my knowledge, not very many scholars—-however, our job is to determine whether or not the evidence presented is compelling or not. Catterson has a very active imagination, which as we know can be a dangerous attribute when playing with art historical questions. Speak up 203! Can only imagine what the queen of skepticism herself will have to say about this theory!
      Do we really think that the average 16th-century lay person would have counted the joins in the Laocoon to see if it matched Pliny’s description?

  2. Question #1: That’s a great question. You have to wonder what different audiences thought of it, as well. If people who were unfamiliar with classical art viewed it, they might not have realized what it was; however, if other artists spotted the work, they’d be sure to recognize it as being not from their period. Plus, as Dr. Sadler has mentioned in previous classes, these people had tons of ruins and ancient art to look at, so maybe it just didn’t register that this might be part of that, instead of inspired by it.

  3. Sorry about the late post. I was very regretful that I have missed such an intriguing article. The author indeed had some great imagination formulating her arguments and I am convinced that this Lacoon might not be the original Roman sculpture by Pliny. As the author suggested, the when, where and how of the sculpture found are worth pondering. How come a great piece of work ended up in a basement with drawings of Lacoon’s head all over the wall and how much likely does this work from ancient Roman culture still survive in great form without deliberate protection?

    I understand the motivation of this work, however, I do not quite agree with its correlation with Michelangelo. The author drew her evidence based on Michelangelo’s financial activities, letters and his style of works. Unfortunately, none of them really worked for me. If there IS a reason for Michelangelo to fraud this sculpture, I guess it must be an April fool’s prank. But just think how Michelangelo signed his own name on Pieta. From a psychological perspective, I don’t think Michelangelo is going to yield his everlasting masterpiece to other people. Now back to the evidence she used in her article: financial activities do not directly indicate income of fraud. Behaving mysteriously, as most great people did in history, is not a promising sign of committing secret sculpture. And the point connects the style of Michelangelo and the Lacoon sculpture seemed an extrapolation. If an artist is going to commit a fraud, the only natural thing to do is to deviate from his very own style as much as possible. So overall, the argument relating Michelangelo to Lacoon seemed a little bit too much imagination to me. But I could not deny how many interesting thoughts the author had.

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