Comparing the Laocoön and his Sons & the Riace Warriors

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Art is one of the most interesting and fascinating applications of creativity and ingenuity. It is remarkable what the human mind can imagine and produce as far as visual elements. Whether it is a painting, sculpture or photography, each piece or rather work is the recognition of life be it emotion, passion, beauty or individual characteristics. Two pieces that speak to this definition are Laocoön and his sons and the Riace Warriors. Both pieces epitomize the depth and skill that artists put into their work.

Laocoön and his Sons

Laocoön and his sons is considered to be one of the most exemplary pieces of sculpture to come from Rome. According to most accounts, it expresses the Hellenistic period. Michelangelo "defined [it] as a prodigy of art. The pieces is the original work of the Rhodian artist Agessandro II" ("Laocoön and his Sons"). The subject of the piece is that of the priest of Poseidon, who became "famous for warning the Trojans in vain against accepting the Trojan horse from the Greeks, and for his subsequent divine execution" ("Laocoön and his Sons"). There are conflicting accounts by historians on what scene the sculpture actually represents.

One group believes that it is an observation of Laocoön being killed by his sons as a result of the aforementioned warning. Another set of art historians speculates that the sculpture shows what occurred in Virgil's Aeneid. The Aeneid is a poem that was written on the story of the Trojan, Aeneas. It is essentially a kind of memoir account of the Trojan's associations with Rome and its subsequent culture (Virgil). The piece has become well-known and renowned because of these conflicted perspectives. According to Laocoön and his Sons (n.d.) the piece reveals intense artistry and provokes discussion among many in both the art world and the general public. It is not just Michelangelo who found the work profound, but the piece's subject matter heavily contributed to what is commonly known as the Western aesthetic (1). Also, the piece can be considered distinctly political due to the time in which it was created and the fact that it was used as a prize possession during the 16th century.

The Riace Warriors

The Riace Warrior statues were first discovered in 1972 and they have since been discussed as having precise aesthetic execution because of the stylistic methodology in which the artist used to create them. Upon looking at the statutes, one makes the observation that the right foot is firmly planted while the left is bent at the knee. This provides additional depth in terms of what the artist sought to express. Considerable literature on the warriors has emerged since their discovery primarily dealing with the enthusiastic nature by which the artist represented the men (Hoffman & Konstam 153-160).

Muzzupappa et al. (2012) asserts that each of the warriors are distinct. The 'A' warrior representing a hero of Greek mythology, while the 'B' bronze warrior exemplifying the classical style of the latter part of the century in which the sculptures were created. Speculation on the basis of archaeologists has foretold that the statues were deliberately buried and that their burial represents the continuity between Christianity and paganism (55-56). In essence, discussion has primarily relied on the bronze warriors being overtly religious pieces with the metal work illustrating the magnetic force and spiritual nature of man.

Muzzupappa et al. (2012) continue by noting that the artist wanted to unequivocally portray the gripping of an object by not showing one. This is one of the many illustrious aspects that have captivated art fans since the warriors were discovered. Moreover, it speaks to the fact that they are indeed warriors and not the average Greek layman (56). Given the precision of most art pieces, it stands to reason that the artist depicted the two warriors without objects for the purpose of showing the bravery of man to be a warrior without weapon as well as to allow the observer to draw their own conclusion about the missing pieces. Both warriors are shown to have their hands open as if an object was indeed in their hands but removed.

Comparison

Much of the similarity between the Riace warriors and Laocoön and his sons falls within the boundaries of having specific execution in their creation. The former draws upon tragedy and the circumstances surrounding religion; while the latter could equally be perceived as speaking to religion in that most, if not all battles are centered on that premise. Further, the similarities between the two pieces give significant historical value to ancient Greece and Rome. The artists potentially understood that these pieces would have an effect on the art world, not only in the time in which they were crafted, but several years later. Each piece is also considered to draw from mythology.

The Riace bronzes add to the mythical dynamics of warriors being heroes for both the Greek and Roman cultures. Laocoön and his sons identifies the strange, yet captivating nature of the circumstances of battle and the events that follow. Both pieces equally are sculpted with a similar contraspposto, which is an illustration of an individual having much of the weight on their back leg. In the Laocoön sculpture, he appears to be struggling to break free from the serpents and his sons, while with the warriors they are observed to ready for battle. Each piece is also very realistic in the definition of how they were sculpted. There is no mystery from the point of view of the observer that they are men. Also, the men in both pieces are nude and are shown to have clear-cut musculature.

As far as the differences between the two pieces, there are several. First, the Riace men are preparing for battle, and Laocoön is considered to be in one. Second, there are three distinctive figures in the Laocoön sculpture - Laocoön himself, and his two sons as well as what are noted as snakes. In addition to this, one of the sons has a robe that has seems to be pushed back in an effort to fight his father. The Riace warriors are displayed as ready for battle – but without weaponry. The hands of both men appear to have their hands read for weapons, but the weapons have either not been placed in their hands as of yet; or the weapons have been removed. Third, the Riace warriors are created with bronze and Laocoön and his sons are created in marble. Euro Decor Canada (2011) relays that the usage of marble in sculpture gives a translucent appearance similar to that of human skin. This affords marble sculptures to have specific refined qualities that individual observers can identify with. Also, marble is known to be durable and hearty (1). Bronze, on the other hand does not provide the in-depth qualities that marble does. Referred to as an unusual metal to use in sculpture, many ancient cultures utilized it because it tended to allow for extended figures because it shrinks as it cools ("The Technique of Bronze Statuary in Ancient Greece"). Finally, Laocoön and his sons shows each individual with a tilted head and the Riace warriors do not have tilted heads. Essentially, there are more differences than similarities between the two pieces in spite of the fact that they both have significant Greek undertones.

Conclusion

When examining, the observer has to critique the various aspects of the work in order to glean what the artist wanted to illustrate when the pieces were created. As such, both of these pieces - the Riace warriors and Laocoön and his sons exemplify the many attributes associated with art and the extent that the human mind can fathom the idiosyncrasies of a culture. These pieces unequivocally show both the mystical and warrior dynamics of the cultures. Each piece provides a particular expression that there is no boundary to the degree of what art can show to the world.

Works Cited

Hoffmann, Herbert, et al. "Casting the Riace Bronzes: Modern Assumptions and Ancient Facts." Oxford Journal of Archaeology 21.2 (153-165): 14 Mar. 2014. <doi: 10.1111/1468-0092.00155>.

"Laocoön and his Sons." Willems Webs, n.d. 16 Mar. 2014. <http://www.willemswebs.com/ringlingdocents/sculpture/snake.htm>.

"Marble Sculpture." Euro Decor Canada, 2011. 16 Mar. 2014. <http://eurodecorca.com/our-products/marble-sculpture.html>.

Muzzupappa, M, et al. "A COMPLETE MORPHOLOGICAL STUDY OF THE RIGHT HAND OF BRONZO “A” DI RIACE." EUROMED (2012): 55-59. 15 Mar. 2014. <http://www.cut.ac.cy/euromed2012proceedings/shortPapers/55.pdf>.

"The Technique of Bronze Statuary in Ancient Greece." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. 16 Mar. 2014. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/grbr/hd_grbr.htm>.

Virgil. "The Aeneid." Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 14 Mar. 2014. <http://classics.mit.edu/Virgil/aeneid.html>.