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LivioAndronico via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Why the Laocoön Sculpture Had the Wrong Arm for Four Centuries

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LivioAndronico via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

In his first-century book Natural History, Roman naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder sang the praises of a sculpture located at the palace of Titus, Roman emperor from 79-81. He called the piece the Laocoön, writing that it was "a work to be preferred to all others, either in painting or sculpture." The sculpture, which Pliny believed was made from a single block of marble, was said to depict the legend of a Trojan priest named Laocoön, who was killed along with his two sons by sea serpents sent by the gods. Laocoön had been trying to warn his fellow Trojans about the suspicious horse lurking outside of their gates, which displeased Athena and Poseidon, who favored the horse-delivering Greeks.

Unfortunately, for many centuries, Pliny’s description was all that was left of the masterpiece. Then, in 1506, it was unearthed in Rome by a farmer digging up his vineyards. Michelangelo, among others, examined the statue and confirmed that it was the same one Pliny had described. Sadly, the fabled Laocoön (also called Laocoön and His Sons) hadn’t fully survived the test of time: It was missing the priest's right arm, among other pieces.

Respected artists of the day debated how to make the piece whole again. Michelangelo thought the missing arm had been bent back over the shoulders, trying to lift off the serpents. Others, including famed Renaissance painter and architect Raphael, believed the arm had been extended up and outward, as if pleading with the gods. (By the way, at least one art historian has since speculated that Michelangelo was entirely responsible for the sculpture, which would make the “unearthing” an elaborate prank.)

In 1510, the pope’s architect held a contest to see which artist could best complete the sculpture. The judge? Raphael. The Renaissance master awarded the work to sculptor Jacopo Sansovino, who (in line with Raphael's own beliefs) had created a version with an outstretched arm. But for reasons that are somewhat unclear, that version of the arm was never attached to the sculpture. An even straighter one, crafted by Michelangelo's former assistant, Giovanni Montorsoli, was added in 1532, and survived on the statue for centuries.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Fast-forward to 1905, when archaeologist Ludwig Pollak discovered the original missing arm in Rome, scattered in a stonemason's yard among a group of other marble body parts. He recognized that the style and age were similar to the Laocoön, and, suspecting that it was one of the sculpture's lost pieces, turned it over to the piece's current owner—the Vatican. Pollak was proved right when a drill hole was found in the arm that perfectly matched a drill hole in the shoulder of the sculpture. And the rediscovered arm was bent, as Michelangelo had originally suspected—not extended, as Raphael had thought. That meant the position of the Montorsoli arm, the one that had been attached to Laocoön's body for close to 400 years, had been incorrect.

The arm Pollak found was added to the sculpture in the late 1950s. But art enthusiasts who like the look of the outstretched arm more than the bent one don't need to worry. There are copies all over the world (like this one in Versailles) that still portray the old extended position—so you can still view it the way you (and Raphael) prefer.

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Ape Meets Girl
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Pop Culture
Epic Gremlins Poster Contains More Than 80 References to Classic Movies
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Ape Meets Girl

It’s easy to see why Gremlins (1984) appeals to movie nerds. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus, the film has horror, humor, and awesome 1980s special effects that strike a balance between campy and creepy. Perhaps it’s the movie’s status as a pop culture treasure that inspired artist Kevin Wilson to make it the center of his epic hidden-image puzzle of movie references.

According to io9, Wilson, who works under the pseudonym Ape Meets Girl, has hidden 84 nods to different movies in this Gremlins poster. The scene is taken from the movie’s opening, when Randall enters a shop in Chinatown looking for a gift for his son and leaves with a mysterious creature. Like in the film, Mr. Wing’s shop in the poster is filled with mysterious artifacts, but look closely and you’ll find some objects that look familiar. Tucked onto the bottom shelf is a Chucky doll from Child’s Play (1988); above Randall’s head is a plank of wood from the Orca ship made famous by Jaws (1975); behind Mr. Wing’s counter, which is draped with a rug from The Shining’s (1980) Overlook Hotel, is the painting of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters II (1989). The poster was released by the Hero Complex Gallery at New York Comic Con earlier this month.

“Early on, myself and HCG had talked about having a few '80s Easter Eggs, but as we started making a list it got longer and longer,” Wilson told Mental Floss. “It soon expanded from '80s to any prop or McGuffin that would fit the curio shop setting. I had to stop somewhere so I stopped at 84, the year Gremlins was released. Since then I’ve thought of dozens more I wish I’d included.”

The ambitious artwork has already sold out, but fortunately cinema buffs can take as much time as they like scouring the poster from their computers. Once you think you’ve found all the references you can possibly find, you can check out Wilson’s key below to see what you missed (and yes, he already knows No. 1 should be Clash of the Titans [1981], not Jason and the Argonauts [1963]). For more pop culture-inspired art, follow Ape Meets Girl on Facebook and Instagram.

Key for hidden image puzzle.
Ape Meets Girl

[h/t io9]

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Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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presidents
Barack Obama Taps Kehinde Wiley to Paint His Official Presidential Portrait
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Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Kehinde Wiley, an American artist known for his grand portraits of African-American subjects, has painted Michael Jackson, Ice-T, and The Notorious B.I.G. in his work. Now the artist will have the honor of adding Barack Obama to that list. According to the Smithsonian, the former president has selected Wiley to paint his official presidential portrait, which will hang in the National Portrait Gallery.

Wiley’s portraits typically depict black people in powerful poses. Sometimes he models his work after classic paintings, as was the case with "Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps.” The subjects are often dressed in hip-hop-style clothing and placed against decorative backdrops.

Portrait by Kehinde Wiley
"Le Roi a la Chasse"
Kehinde Wiley, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Smithsonian also announced that Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald has been chosen by former first lady Michelle Obama to paint her portrait for the gallery. Like Wiley, Sherald uses her work to challenge stereotypes of African-Americans in art.

“The Portrait Gallery is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former president and first lady,” Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a press release. “Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”

The tradition of the president and first lady posing for portraits for the National Portrait Gallery dates back to George H.W. Bush. Both Wiley’s and Sherald’s pieces will be revealed in early 2018 as permanent additions to the gallery in Washington, D.C.

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