National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Laocoön El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos)
El Greco (painter)
Greek, 1541 - 1614
Laocoön, c. 1610/1614
oil on canvas
overall: 137.5 x 172.5 cm (54 1/8 x 67 15/16 in.) framed: 176.5 x 212.7 cm (69 1/2 x 83 3/4 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
1946.18.1
Not on View
From the Tour: El Greco
Object 4 of 8

The powerful and enigmatic Laocoön is El Greco's only surviving treatment of a mythological subject. The story relates how the hero, a priest in Troy, attempted to warn his countrymen of the Trojan Horse, whose hollow body concealed Greek soldiers. Laocoön was punished by the gods, who sent serpents out of the sea to kill him and his two sons.

A famous ancient sculpture of Laocoön, which El Greco must have seen, was unearthed in Rome in 1506. Like it, El Greco's painting depicts the climactic moment when the bearded priest struggles for life. One son lies dead, and the other will soon succumb. But El Greco placed these mythological characters and the Trojan Horse against the backdrop of Toledo. At the right stand two figures, perhaps gods viewing the scene. They are complicated by a third head and the leg of an unfinished figure. These mysterious figures and the view of Toledo have prompted many speculations about El Greco's intention. Is this a reference to a contemporary religious controversy, a moralizing allegory, or an allusion to the tradition that Toledo was founded by descendants of the Trojan heroes? Probably it is impossible to know. It may simply be that El Greco was motivated to match the virtuosity of a famous ancient statue with his own masterful invention.

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