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LivioAndronico via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0
LivioAndronico via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Why the Laocoön Sculpture Had the Wrong Arm for Four Centuries

LivioAndronico via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0
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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Art Lovers in England, Rejoice: France's Famous Bayeux Tapestry is Coming to the UK
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of France’s most prized national treasures, the Bayeux Tapestry, is officially heading to England for exhibition. The loan will mark the first time the fragile 11th century work has left France in nearly 1000 years, according to The Washington Post.

French president Emmanuel Macron announced news of the loan in mid-January, viewed by some as a gesture to smooth post-Brexit relations with Britain, ABC reports. The tapestry depicts the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, a historically important event replete with guts and glory.

Stretching for 210 feet, the Bayeux Tapestry’s nine embroidered panels tell the tale of Harold, Earl of Wessex, who swore an oath to support the right of William, Duke of Normandy, to the English throne once King Edward (a.k.a. Edward the Confessor) died without an heir. But after Edward's funeral at Westminster Abbey, Harold breaks his oath to William so he could be crowned king instead. Believing he was the rightful ruler, William—today remembered as William the Conqueror—decides to wage war and ultimately defeats Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

The historical narrative has endured for centuries, but the tapestry's provenance has been lost to time. Experts think that the artwork may have been created in England, shortly after the Battle of Hastings, although it’s unclear who designed and embroidered the scenes. Its original owner, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror, may have commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. He became Earl of Kent after the Battle of Hastings, and this new title would have afforded him access to skilled artisans, The Guardian explains.

The Bayeux Tapestry is currently on display in the town of Bayeux in Normandy. It likely won’t leave France until 2020, after conservators ensure that it’s safe to move the artwork. According to The Telegraph, the tapestry might be be displayed at the British Museum in 2022.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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Photo composite, Mental Floss. Car, ticket, Simon Laprise. Background, iStock.
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Design
This Snow Sculpture of a Car Was So Convincing Cops Tried to Write It a Ticket
Photo composite, Mental Floss. Car, ticket, Simon Laprise. Background, iStock.
Photo composite, Mental Floss. Car, ticket, Simon Laprise. Background, iStock.

Winter is a frustrating time to be on the road, but one artist in Montreal has found a way to make the best of it. As CBS affiliate WGCL-TV reports, his snow sculpture of a DeLorean DMC-12 was so convincing that even the police were fooled.

Simon Laprise of L.S.D Laprise Simon Designs assembled the prank car using snow outside his home in Montreal. He positioned it so it appeared to be parked along the side of the road, and with the weather Montreal has been having lately, a car buried under snow wasn’t an unusual sight.

A police officer spotted the car and was prepared to write it a ticket before noticing it wasn’t what it seemed. He called in backup to confirm that the car wasn’t a car at all.

Instead of getting mad, the officers shared a good laugh over it. “You made our night hahahahaha :)" they wrote on a fake ticket left on the snow sculpture.

The masterpiece was plowed over the next morning, but you can appreciate Laprise’s handiwork in the photos below.

Snow sculpture.

Snow sculpture of car.

Snow sculpture of car.

Note written in French.

[h/t WGCL-TV]

All images courtesy of Simon Laprise.

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