Laocoon (1608-1614) by El Greco

Laocoon - El Greco - c.1610

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Artwork Information

ArtistEl Greco
MediumOil on Canvas
Dimensions137.5 x 172.5 cm
Art MovementMannerism (Late Renaissance)
Current LocationNational Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Location Created Spain
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About Laocoon

The artwork “Laocoon” was created by the artist El Greco around the year 1610. Executed in oil on canvas, this work is an exemplar of the Mannerism art movement, prevalent during the Late Renaissance period. The piece measures 137.5 by 172.5 centimeters and is categorized as a mythological painting. The artwork is housed in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and it was created in Spain.

The artwork portrays the tragic tale of Laocoon, a character from Greek mythology who was punished by the gods for warning the Trojans about the Greek gift of the wooden horse. El Greco’s dramatic rendition of the scene shows the priest Laocoon and his sons entwined and struggling against the serpentine coils of two sea serpents sent by the deities. The tension in their muscles and the agony on their faces are captured with expressive brushwork and stark contrasts, which are characteristic of Mannerist stylization.

Central to the composition is the figure of Laocoon himself, with his body contorted in pain as one of the serpents bites into his hip. His sons share this desperate struggle, but they are depicted with less intensity, allowing the viewer’s focus to remain on Laocoon’s suffering. The painting’s background reveals a panoramic view of a city that recedes into the distance, which may allude to the Trojan city impacted by Laocoon’s fateful prophecy.

The expressionistic portrayal of forms, vivid colors, and the dynamic arrangement of figures reflect El Greco’s unique interpretation of the myth, imbuing the scene with emotion and movement that resonate with the viewer. The artwork invites reflection on themes of fate, divine intervention, and the human condition, challenging the observer to engage with the profound narrative encapsulated within the canvas.

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