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Widespread interest in the story of Laocoön, a mythical priest of Troy, developed after an ancient, monumental sculpture representing him and his two sons was unearthed in 1506 in Rome. Suspecting trickery, Laocoön had warned his countrymen not to accept the wooden horse left outside Troy by the Greeks and had hurled his spear at it to prove that it was hollow. Thus the priest incurred the wrath of the gods, for desecrating an object dedicated to the goddess Athena. El Greco depicted serpents, sent by the angry gods, engaging Laocoön and one son in a mortal struggle, while a second son lies already dead at his father's side. The identity of the unfinished figures on the right continues to be debated; perhaps they represent the gods themselves supervising their vengeance.

Utilizing every available means — writhing line, lurid color, and illogically conceived space — the artist projected an unrelieved sense of doom. The figures seem incorporeal; sinuous outlines and anti–natural flesh tones contribute to their specterlike appearance. The striking setting carries this visionary late work of El Greco to an apocalyptic extreme.

Did El Greco intend to relate this mythical theme of conflict and divine retribution to the Inquisition then raging in Toledo? Whatever the case, the story of Laocoön is the only classical theme he is known to have painted.

More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries, which is available as a free PDF.

Object Data


oil on canvas


overall: 137.5 × 172.5 cm (54 1/8 × 67 15/16 in.)

framed: 173.99 × 209.55 × 10.16 cm (68 1/2 × 82 1/2 × 4 in.)

Accession Number


Artists / Makers

El Greco (painter) Greek, 1541 - 1614

Image Use

This image is in the public domain.
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Detail Information


unidentified inventory number at lower left: 104


Probably in El Greco's possession at his death;[1] his son Jorge Manuel Theotócópuli, Toledo, in 1621.[2] The Infante Antonio María Felipe Luis de Orleáns, Duque de Montpensier [1824-1890], Seville;[3] by inheritance to his son, the Infante Don Antonio de Orleáns, Duque de Galliera, Sanlúcar de Barremada, Cádiz.[4] (Durand-Ruel, Paris) by 1910.[5] (Paul Cassirer, Berlin), by October 1915.[6] The pianist Edwin Fischer [1886-1960], Basel and Berlin, by 1923;[7] Eleanora Irme von Jeszenski von Mendelssohn, Berlin, who was divorced from Fischer in 1925, by 1926.[8] T.R.H. Prince and Princess Paul of Yugoslavia, Belgrade, Johannesburg, and Paris, by May 1934;[9] consigned 1946 by Prince Paul to (M. Knoedler and Co., London, Paris, and New York); sold February 1946 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[10] gift 1946 to NGA.

Exhibition History

Sonderausstellung El Greco, Alte Pinkothek, Munich, 1910.
Werke alter Kunst aus Berliner Privatbesitzer, Paul Cassirer, Berlin, 1915.
Recent Additions to the Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1946, no. 885.
Art Treasures for America: An Anthology of Paintings & Sculpture in the Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1961-1962, no. 124, 126, repro.
Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco): Some Works of His Early and Mature Years, Benaki Museum, Athens; National Pinakothek, Athens, 1979-1980, 12-16.
El Greco of Toledo, The Toledo [Ohio] Museum of Art; Prado, Madrid; National Gallery of Art, Washington; Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1982-1983, 256-257, no. 56, pls. 68, 69.
Masterpieces of Western European Painting of the XVIth-XXth Centuries from the Museums of the European Countries and USA, State Hermitage Museum, Leningrad, 1989, no. 6, repro.
El Greco. Laokoon, Museum Czartoryskich, Krakow, Poland, 1992, brochure, color repro. 8 and cover.
A Gift to America: Masterpieces of European Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Seattle Art Museum; Calif. Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, 1994-1995, no. 9.
El Greco im Umfeld seiner Zeitgenossen [El Greco and His Contemporaries], Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna, September-October 2001, no cat.
El Greco, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna, May-September 2001, no. 43, repro.
El Greco: The Illumination and Quickening of the Spirit, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The National Gallery, London, 2003-2004, no. 69, repro.
El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, 2008 (shown only in Boston), no. 6, repro.
El Greco and Modernism, Museum Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf, 2012, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
El Greco in the National Gallery of Art and Washington-Area Collections: A 400th Anniversary Celebration, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2014-2015, no catalogue.
El Greco y la pintura moderna, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2014, unnumbered catalogue, fig. 125.

Technical Summary

The support is a fine-weight, plain-weave fabric, lined to a similar fabric. Over the white ground El Greco applied a thin red imprimatura, which he left exposed in many parts of the composition. The paint was applied in rich, opaque layers with thin, scumbled brushwork in the areas of lighter color. Although there is no high impasto, the brushwork is lively and textured. X-radiographs reveal only a few minor revisions of the composition. The painting was cleaned and restored by Mario Modestini in 1955. Extensive areas of loss in the throat, chest, and legs of the figure at the far left and in the raised leg of Laocoön were inpainted, as were smaller scattered damages. Modestini removed loincloths which had been painted over the figures at the far left and far right and a large bouffant coiffure which had been added to the female figure at the right. He also exposed the middle head of the group of three now visible at the right and the fifth leg between the two standing figures at the right. The painting is in fair condition.


Catálogo de los cuadros y esculturas pertenecientes á la galeria de SS. AA. RR. los Sereníssimos Señores Infantes de España, Duques de Montpensier. Seville, 1866: 44, no. 155.
Williamson, George Charles, ed. Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers. 4th ed. 5 vols. London, 1903-1904: 5:168.
Förster, Richard. "Laokoön im Mittelalter und in der Renaissance." Jahrbuch der königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen (Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen) 27 (1906): 174-175.
Thieme, Ulrich, and Felix Becker, eds. Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. 37 vols. Leipzig, 1907-1950:. 33(1939):7.
Cossío, Manuel B. El Greco. Madrid, 1908: 357-363, 579, no. 162, pl. 67 (also 1972 ed.: 207-211, 397, no. 385, fig. 66).
Calvert, Albert Frederick, and C. Gasquoine Hartley. El Greco. London, 1909: 170-171, pl. 126.
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Mayer, August L. "Sammlungen." Kunstchronik 23 (1911/1912): 10-11.
Kehrer, Hugo. Die Kunst des Greco. Munich, 1914: 22, 85-87, 101, pl. 61.
Burchard, Ludwig. "Werke alter Kunst aus Berliner Privatbesitzer." Kunst und Künstler 13 (1915): 523, 525, repro. 525.
Henry, Norman. "Vergil in Art." Art and Archaeology 5 (1917): 239, repro.
"Die Zeit und der Markt: Sammlungen." Der Cicerone 15 (1923): 1156-1157.
Schmid, H. U. "Über das Jahr 1923." Jahresbericht der öffentlichen Kunstsammlungen, Basel 20 (1923): 6.
Schmid, H. U. "Über das Jahr 1924: Gemäldegalerie." Jahresbericht der öffentlichen Kunstsammlungen, Basel 21 (1924): 6.
"Bericht über das Jahr 1925 und 1926." Jahrbuch für Kunst und Kunstpflege in der Schweiz 4 (1925/1926): 60.
Kehrer, Hugo. Spanische Kunst. Munich, 1926: 96-97, repro. 98.
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Fischer, Otto. "Über das Jahr 1927." Jahresbericht der öffentlichen Kunstsammlungen, Basel 24 (1927): 6.
Saxl, Fritz. Review of El Greco by August L. Mayer. In Kritische Berichte zur kunstgeschichtlichen Literatur (1927/1928): 95-96, fig. 11.
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Clark, Kenneth. "Report: National Gallery, 1935." National Gallery and Tate Gallery Directors' Reports 1935. London, 1935: 4.
Legendre, Maurice, and Alfred Hartmann. Domenikos Theotokopoulos Called El Greco. Paris, 1937: 482, repro.
Goldscheider, Ludwig. El Greco. London, 1938: 8, 16, pl. 216 (also 1954 rev. ed.: pl. 193).
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Cook, Walter S. "El Greco's Laocoön in the National Gallery." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 26 (1944): 261-272, figs. 1-2, 4-6.
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"Vernissage." Art News 45 (April, 1946): 17, repro.
Camón Aznar, José. Dominico Greco. 2 vols. Madrid, 1950: 2:805, 880, 914-921, 1390, no. 696, figs. 714-717, 719-720 (also 1970 rev. ed., 2:815, 883, 918-924, 997, 1292, 1376, no. 684, figs. 780-783, 785-786).
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 80, color repro.
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Gaya Nuño, Juan Anotonio. La pintura española fuera de España; historia y catàlogo. Madrid, 1958: 206, no. 1424.
Soehner, Halldor. "Greco in Spanien." Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst 9/10 (1958/1959); 181, 194, fig. 59.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 269, repro.
Evans, Grose. Spanish Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1960 (Booklet Number Ten in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 20, color repro.
Kehrer, Hugo. Greco in Toledo. Stuttgart, 1960: 69-70, figs. 75-76.
The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 20, color repro. 13.
Walker, John, Guy Emerson, and Charles Seymour. Art Treasures for America: An Anthology of Paintings & Sculpture in the Samuel H. Kress Collection. London, 1961: 131-134, color repro. pl. 124-126.
Martin, Kurt. Die Tschudi-Spende: Hugo von Tschudi zum Gedächtnis. Munich: 1962: 11.
Neugass, Fritz. "Die Auflösung der Sammlung Kress." Die Weltkunst 32 (1 January, 1962): 3, repro.
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Sánchez Cantón, Francisco Javier. El Greco. London, 1963: 43-44, pl. 44.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 164, no. 885, color repro. 165.
Hauser, Arnold. Mannerism. Translated by Eric Mosbacher in collaboration with the author. 2 vols. New York, 1965: 1:269; 2:pl. 300.
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 62.
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Gandolfo, Giampaolo et al. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Great Museums of the World. New York, 1968: 12, 120-121, color repro.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 55, repro.
Manzini, Gianna, and Tiziana Frati. L'opera completa del Greco. Milan, 1969: no. 166, color pls. 48-51.
Palm, Erwin Walter. "El Greco's Laokoön." Pantheon 27 (1969): 129-135, figs. 1-5.
Vetter, Ewald W. "El Greco's Laokoön `reconsidered'." Pantheon 27 (1969): 295-299.
Palm, Erwin Walter. "Zu zwei späten Bildern von El Greco." Pantheon 28 (1970): 298-299.
Waterhouse, Ellis. "Some Painters and the Counter Reformation Before 1600." Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, London 22 (1972): 114.
Finley, David Edward. A Standard of Excellence: Andrew W. Mellon Founds the National Gallery of Art at Washington. Washington, 1973: 89, 90 repro.
Gudiol, José. Domenikos Theotokopoulos, El Greco. Translated by Kenneth Lyons. New York, 1973: 268-271, 356, no. 227, color fig. 250, fig. 251 (also 1983 ed.: 268-271, color fig. 250, fig. 251).
Walker, John. Self-Portrait with Donors. Boston, 1974: 144-146, repro. 145.
Winner, Matthias. "Zum Nachleben des Laokoön in der Renaissance." Jahrbuch der königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen (Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen) 16 (1974): 113, n. 90.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 162, repro.
Lafuente Ferrari, Enrique, and José Manuel Pita Andrade. El Greco: The Expressionism of His Final Years. Translated by Robert E. Wolf. New York, 1975: 61, 73-74, 114, 136-137, 162, no. 145, color fig. 93, color pls. 7-9.
Davies, David. El Greco. London, 1976: 10, 16, n. to pl. 41, color pls. 41-43.
Crombie, Theodore. Review of El Greco by David Davies. Apollo 106 (1977): 321.
Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 195-201, figs. 198-200, text fig. 45, color repro. (detail).
Waterhouse, Ellis. Review of El Greco by David Davies. The Burlington Magazine 120 (1978): 32.
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 60, pl. 44.
"International Exhibits in the U.S.: El Greco of Toledo." AAM / ICOM 8, no. 2 (Spring 1981): 7, repro.
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Rogelio Buendía, José. "Humanismo y simbología en El Greco: el tema de la serpiente." Studies in the History of Art (1983): 42-45, repros. 43-44.
Moffitt, John F. "A Christianization of Pagan Antiquity." Paragone 35 (November, 1984): 44-60, pl. 31.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 240, no. 307, color repro.
Caviro, Balbina M. "Los Grecos de don Pedro Laso de la Vega." Goya 184 (January-February, 1985): 217-219, repro. 219.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 188, repro.
López Torrijos, Rosa. La mitología en la pintura española del Siglo de Oro. Madrid, 1985: 220-222, 224, fig. 84.
Pita Andrade, José Manuel. "Sobre la presencia del Greco en Madrid y de sus obras en las colecciones madrileñas del siglo XVII." Archivo Español de Arte y Arqueologia 58 (1985): 329.
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Brown, Jonathan, and Richard G. Mann. Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1990: 60-67, color repro. 63.
El Greco of Crete: Exhibition on the Occasion of the 450th Anniversary of his Birth. Exh. cat. Iraklion, 1990: 185, fig. 7, 349.
Gingold, Diane J., and Elizabeth A.C. Weil. The Corporate Patron. New York, 1991: 22-23, color fig.
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 185, color repro.
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 82, repro.
Paul, Barbara. Hugo von Tschudi und die moderne französische Kunst im Deutschen Kaiserreich. Mainz, 1993: 287, fig. 100.
Veronika Schroeder, "Spanien und die Moderne - Marczell von Nemes, Julius Meier-Graefe, Hugo von Tschudi," in Manet bis Van Gogh: Hugo von Tschudi und der Kampf um die Moderne. Exh. cat. Berlin and Munich, 1996: 419, 421, fig. 3.
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Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 110-112, no. 85, color repros.
Stoenescu, Livia. The Pictorial Art of El Greco: Transmaterialities, Temporalities, and Media. Amsterdam, 2019: 248-294, color fig. 100.
Petrucci, Valentina. "Patricia Urquiola, l'arte e il colore, che ha 'il potere di cambiare tutto'." Domus no. 1,072 (ottobre 2022): 6, color repro.

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