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THE VATICAN MUSEUM'S MOST FAMOUS STATUE

The ruins of legendary Troy (Trova), first excavated by the German archaeologist Heinrich Schiemann in 1872, are located close the straits called the Dardanelles (Çanakkale Bogazi) in Western Turkey, and not far from the site of another legendary skirmish, the Battle of Gallipoli of First World War fame, where my grandfather fought for eight months. I had previously submitted a photograph of a Middair Collision of Bullets in that horrific battle.

Homer, the mythical blind poet who lived in Ephesus around 750 BC, wrote about the Trojan Wars that took place several hundred years earlier. The wars had been instigated by Paris, the son of King Priam of the Trojans, running off with the Helen, the magnificent wife of Achaean King Menelaus of Sparta. “A thousand ships were launched by the Greeks,” Homer wrote, “who laid siege to Troy.” Numberless warriors died, Among the heroes was the warrior Achilles, who defeated Paris’ brother, Hector. And Achilles himself was killed by an arrow from the bow of Paris that had struck Achilles on his only vulnerable part — his ankle. An excellent photo depicting an arrow imbedded in Achilles’s Heel was previously submitted by my friend Stella Marinazzo (meltemi). But after ten years of fighting an impasse had been reached. But then, the Greeks, following a brilliant idea of Odysseus, constructed a colossal wooden horse, and in retreating from their siege in apparent resignation of the futility of the siege, left the horse as an homage for the Trojans. Hidden inside the hollow horse was a team of select warriors headed by Odysseus.

Waking to the sight of the solitary horse outside their city gates, they were all perplexed. "A deadly fraud is this," declared the priest Laocoön, "…devised by the Achaean chiefs!... Beware of Greeks bearing gifts."

And his words might have moved the Trojans to reject the horse, to destroy it outside the city gates. But alas, Godddes Minerva, an ardent supporter of the Greeks, at this moment released a pair of sea serpents to strangle Laocoön and his two sons, Antiphantes and Thymbraeus. This was interpreted by the Trojan leaders as the sign from a benevolent God showing the priest’s mistake. They dragged the horse inside the city walls, and, in the process, made one of the most famous blunders in history.

The statue of Laocoön is thought to be the masterpiece of three surpassing sculptors on the Island of Rhodes — Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus. It was carved between 42-20 BC according to writings discovered at Lindos on Rhodes. The statue is also believed to have adorned the Palace of Tiberius and that of the notorious Emperor Nero in Rome of the First Century BC.

In AD 1506, during the Papacy of the Julius II, the statue (sans the right arm) was unearthed in excavations being carried out at the Palace of Tiberius. It was painstakingly restored, still missing, and even Michelangelo stood in awe of the statue, mesmerized by the power and beauty infused in it by the classic sculptors. A commission of 30 artists was organized to speculate on how the missing arm should be designed, 29 of the sculptors speculated that the missing right arm should have been extended, upwards and to the left. Michelangelo alone argued that it should be corked over his right shoulder. When the missing arm was discovered, four hundred years after the statue itself, it turned out that Michelangelo was right! That is the difference between the "transformative genius" and "ordinary genius." There are still copies around of the statue with the arm configured as the commission had insisted, copies created before 1904.

In 1797 Napoleon Bonaparte demanded the statue as a war debt from the Vatican. He was given a copy, being readied for the anticipated event. Exactly four hundred years after the statue was excavated, in 1906 the right arm was discovered, having leeched minerals from the ground and more discolored than the rest. So, after four hundred years Laocoön was reunited with his arm. That was a century ago. It is regarded as the most famous statue in the Vatican Museum. (Vatican City, including the St. Peter's Basilica, is home to the even more famous statue, Michelangelo’s Pieta. Thanks, Vinicio!)

On July 12, 2007, while touring the Vatican Museum, I spent the better part of an hour admiring the classic sculpture, long my favorite statue in the world. Crowds were teeming around during the hot summer day, but as the crowds abated intermittently, I had a chance to shoot approximately a dozen shots. The curved column on the right is part of an arch, and is not an optical distortion in the lens. Nikon D-70, 18-70 mm Nikkor lens, UV-filter, ISO set on 200, tripod.

PS The WS performed by my good friend, Mesut Ilgim (mesutilgim) is fabulous. I hope to use this image in my new book, "Leonardo's Universe," (National Geographic 2008) in the context of the Classical artists' influence on the Renaissance Artist..

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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6781 W: 471 N: 12169] (41261)
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