The Laocoön in Powerscourt Gardens – A History


The Laocoön in Powerscourt Gardens is one of the most beautiful pieces of sculpture in the gardens. Irish Sculptor Robin Buick has kindly put together an article for us on the history of the Laocoön and its origins. Enjoy!

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                                                Laocoön in Powerscourt Gardens

The 6th Viscount Powerscourt bought the marble sculpture of the Laocoön in Rome in 1848. It is a copy of a marble group from the 1st Century that was unearthed almost intact in 1506 and is now in the Vatican Museum. The sculpture’s discovery in 16th century Rome was a sensation. Pope Julius II bought it and Michelangelo was among the first to see it.



His friend Giuliano da Sangallo identified it from the writing of Pliny the Elder, as the Laocoön that stood in the Golden House of Nero in the 1st Century. It represents the death of Laocoön the Trojan priest and his two sons whom Poseidon the sea god sent two pythons to kill when Laocoön tried to warn Troy that the Wooden Horse was a Greek ruse. 

Powerscourt Gardens

                                                   Poseidon the Sea God

Montorsoli and later Cornacchini made restorations of missing arms and a hand. In 1798 Napoleon took it to Paris as war booty. It was returned to the Vatican after the battle of Waterloo in 1816 and Canova made another restoration. The Powerscourt Laocoön is a marble copy of Canova’s restoration. In 1957 Filippo Magi again restored it, removing Canova’s restorations and adding the father’s right arm that was found in 1905.

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                                                  Laocoön in Powerscourt Gardens


More information about the Laocoön

Copies of the Laocoön in plaster played an important role in the teaching of art until the mid 20th Century. Drawing from Plaster casts formed the foundation of an artist’s training in drawing, painting and modelling in clay. In 1790 David La Touche, a member of a wealthy family of bankers gave a plaster Laocoön to the art school in Dublin that later became the Metropolitan School of Art and later still NCAD. In 1818, a gift of the Canova Casts from the Prince Regent to Lord Listowel became the foundation of the Crawford School of Art in Cork.

In 1969 the NCAD Laocoön was badly damaged by protesting art students who wanted an end to what they considered the ‘out of date’ teaching based on drawing from the antique. The Cork Laocoön is now in the plaster room of the Crawford Art Gallery were it is seen at ground level. The Powerscourt Laocoön is the only marble one in Ireland and as such is a very valuable art treasure.


Find Out More about the Laocoön

Read about Robin Buick

Thanks Robin for such an informative post!

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