Obelisk Art History

Laocoön

El Greco, 1604 – 1614
Laocoön, El Greco
Laocoön, zoomed in
142 cmLaocoön scale comparison193 cm
See Laocoön in the Kaleidoscope

Laocoön is a Spanish Renaissance and Mannerist Oil on Canvas Painting created by El Greco from 1604 to 1614. It lives at the National Gallery of Art, Washington in the United States. The image is in the Public Domain, and tagged Fear, Death in Art and Greek and Roman Mythology. Download

The gods don't screw around.

The Laocoön is a recurring theme among renaissance painters, combining Greek high-drama and violent death. The scene depicts the death of the Laocoön, a Trojan priest of Poseidon. During the Greek siege of Troy, it was the Laocoön that mistrusted the now infamous Greek horse. But the god’s were on the side of Greece, and the Laocoön’s warning earned him and his sons a cursed death by sea-snake. Rough.

El Greco’s depiction is a dark one, less classically influenced and trapped by the low clouds he often depicted over his adopted city of Toledo, Spain. The men’s contorted bodies are radically stretched in the Mannerist form, their faces tortured. The Laocoön was El Greco’s only painting of a mythological theme, and its violence and vengeful gods may reference the ravages of the Inquisition, which gripped Spain in the early 1600s.

Reed Enger, "Laocoön," in Obelisk Art History, Published November 25, 2015; last modified October 13, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/el-greco/laocoon/.

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