Friday, November 7, 2014


Cortile Ottagono

Giacomo da Pietrasanta (active since 1452/d. about 1497) from a design by Donato Bramante (1444/1514) who built it as a square courtyard with no portico. It was known as GIARDINO DEL BELVEDERE (Belvedere Gardens)
It was converted into an octagon with the addition of the portico in 1773 by Michelangelo Simonetti (1724/87)

It was the first area of the Vatican, where Pope Julius II in 1506 exhibited ancient statues including Laocoon found in the same year. The huge Vatican Museums of today began then from this court

“Apollo Belvedere” Roman copy of the second century AD from the bronze original maybe of the fourth century BC by Leochares, found at the end of 1400s in the Villa of Nero at Anzio and exhibited by Julius II Della Rovere (1503/13) in his garden at St. Peter in Chains
Forearms and hands were added in 1532/33 by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli (about 1507/1563) a follower of Michelangelo. They were taken off in 1924 and put back again in 1999
In the left hand Apollo holds the bow and in the right hand used to have a sprig of laurel wrapped in bandages symbol of his healing power
The image of the face was used as a badge for the astronauts of Apollo 17 in 1972

“The statue of Apollo is the highest ideal of all art works of antiquity which have escaped destruction” (Johann Joachim Wickelmann)

“The great purity and nobility of the gods is so personified through this arcane form of light, where even the unleashing of vengeful force becomes an act without pain, an expression of beauty, a game of style” (Andrea Pomella)

The head was added by a follower of Michelangelo Buonarroti

“Laocoon” found in seven pieces on January 14, 1506 in the Domus Aurea, although the precise location is unknown
The noble of low rank Felice de Fredis fell into a hole that had suddenly opened in his vineyard, and found the pieces that were recovered in the days immediately after, in the presence of Michelangelo and Giuliano da Sangallo, generating boundless admiration so that a reporter wrote: All of Rome day and night runs to that home and there it seems like a jubilee
The attribution and dating are still cause for lively academic debate

It was executed, according to Pliny the Elder, by the sculptor of Rhodes of the first century AD Agesander and his sons Athenodorus and Polydorus
The three artists were also the authors of the Group of Scylla in the Sperlonga Cave
According to some scholars this statue is a copy of a Hellenistic original in bronze. According to Filippo Coarelli this is the late-Hellenistic original
Pliny adds that it is a unicum (unique) and, in fact, so far antique replicas are not known, unlike many other ancient masterpieces
The sculpture represents the Trojan priest Laocoon, who, as told by Virgil in the Aeneid, for trying to warn his countrymen of the deception hidden in the wooden horse, a gift of the Greeks, was sentenced to die by the wrath of Athena with his two children, victim of snakes come from the sea
In another alternative version of the myth, Laocoon, the priest of Apollo is killed by the god because he had broken his marriage ban

In yet another version, the appearance of snakes and the killing of Laocoon and one son (in the marble group actually the son on the right seems to be able to escape), frightening Aeneas and his soldiers, had the effect of saving them from the slaughter of the Trojans that would happen in the following night and then, indirectly, ensure life and future of Aeneas: Laocoon would then be the sacrificial victim for the future founding of Rome

In 1532/33 the follower of Michelangelo, Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli (about 1507/1563), completed it incorrectly with terracotta arms that were remade exactly the same but in marble in the years 1725/27 by Agostino Cornacchini (1683/1740)
Montorsoli made arbitrarily the right arm of Laoocon tense up, even if it seems that Michelangelo believed that the original arm was bent
In 1960 the Laocoon was released from the additions and completed with the original “Pollack Arm” from the name of the merchant who had accidentally found it in 1906 in the Roman antiquities circuit, and donated it
The right arm is then bent, in the position that Michelangelo assumed was the original one when the group was found to be free of the arm itself. Being part of the history of archeology did not save the poor Pollack who was Jewish: he was taken in a Nazi roundup in Rome and died in an extermination camp

In 1799 the Laocoon was stolen by the French and put in a place of honor in the Louvre. It was returned in 1815
It had a huge impact on the visual culture of the sixteen century and it was even reproduced in frescoes on exterior fa├žades of Roman houses: a particularly large reproduction in the Monti district originated the name of Via dei Serpenti (Snakes Road)

“The plastic energy reveals a kind of a refrained tragedy, a drama in the making suspended in a present of measured anguish. The torment of the bodies afflicted by the terrible divine sanction can be interpreted as a metaphor for the mocking pain to which the bearers of truth are condemned” (Andrea Pomella)

On either side of the entrance of the Hall of Animals, there are “Two mastiffs” of the third century AD from originals of Pergamum art

“Hermes” formerly known as the Belvedere Antinous, of the Hadrian's period from an original of the fourth century BC by artists influenced by Praxiteles
It was discovered in 1543 near Castel Sant'Angelo. Maybe Hermes is represented here as a conductor of souls to Hades, so-called Psychopompos

“Group of happy Venus and Cupid” with head of a Roman woman of the second half of the second century AD (maybe Faustina Minor, wife of Marcus Aurelius or Crispina, wife of Commodus) and body copy of the Aphrodite of Cnidus by Praxiteles (about 395/326 BC)
It was probably found near the Basilica S. Croce in Gerusalemme

Reliefs embedded in the wall originally shorter sides of the so called Mattei Sarcophagus now in the Palazzo Mattei di Giove with “Lupercal, i.e. Romulus and Remus suckled by the she-wolf” and “Mars and Rhea Silvia with the Tiber River”

Testified in 1550 in the villa of Julius III Ciocchi Del Monte (1550/55), Villa Giulia, and moved here in 1776. It was restored many times
The faces of Achilles and Penthesilea have the features of the couple of dead who were buried there, according to a use common in ancient Rome. The style of the work is typical of the first half of the third century AD

“Curved sides of a sarcophagus with lions biting horses” about 270 A.D. with dramatic use of the drill

The cupids are often associated with the world of the dead, and in these reliefs they go hunting, playing, riding on dolphins and carry garlands and shields

“Perseus” 1800 clearly inspired the Apollo Belvedere and the two boxers “Creugas” 1795/1801 and “Damosseno” 1795/1806 by the giant of Neoclassicism Antonio Canova (1757/1822)
They were then the first works of a contemporary artist to be exhibited in the Vatican Museums
The story of the two boxers is told by Pausanias: during the Nemean games, having sustained the match more than expected, the fighters agreed to hit each other by imposing a single hit at a time
Creugas of Durres (Albania) was pierced by the hand that Damosseno of Syracuse sank in his opponent's belly for the hardness of his sharp nails. Removing his hand pulled out the entrails and killed Creugas
The hits, however, were considered to be technically two and Damosseno was disqualified. Poor Creugas was dedicated a statue

“They belonged, due to the cruel nature of the subject, as Hercules and Lichas, to the 'terribile' (frightful) series of heroic neoclassicism, that, in the sublime representation of dramatic events, allowed to explore, to the ends dictated by the respect of the classical expression, exasperated nudes and faces loaded with tension” (Stefano Grandesso)

“Sarcophagus with submission of barbarians” of the second half of the second century AD
On the right there is a Roman general seated and crowned by Victory, on the sides there are scenes of military triumph. The characters are strongly characterized and there is considerable emotional involvement

“Ara (altar) Casali” dedicated to a certain Tiberius Claudius Faventino at the end of the second century AD with scenes from the Trojan saga and the legend of the foundation of Rome

They were found on the slopes of Oppian Hill in 1693 and probably they used to decorate with other fragments now in the Capitoline Museum a large public building by the end of the second century AD

“Tub in black granite” beginning of the third century AD found near the Baths of Caracalla
This black granite is Egyptian and comes from the quarries of Aswan near the area where the red porphyry was dug

“Column with plant motifs: ivy with berries in clusters” of the first half of the second century AD from Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli

Very restored and integrated by Francesco Antonio Franzoni (1734/1818), who gave it to the Vatican Museums in 1789
Eight muses standing and one sitting with the face of the bride in front of her husband also sitting down

“Bacchic relief with young Dionysus drunk held by a satyr” of late Hellenistic taste with traces of color
The classic Bacchic procession is made of satyrs, cupids and sileni as well as centaurs both male and female

The relief was probably inspired by the name of the deceased, Diadumenos or athlete who wraps bandage around his head, gesture immortalized by a famous bronze statue by Polykleitos of about 420 BC

The writing ad pinum and the pine tree carved in relief on the side perhaps refer to the cult of the Magna Mater to whom the pine was sacred

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