It’s hard to exaggerate what a storied history the stunning sculpture ‘The Laccoon Group’ has. Sculpted in Rhodes around two millennia ago, it was first described by the brilliant Roman poet, Pliny the Elder, when he witnessed it in the palace of the Roman Emperor Titus. The sculpture was rediscovered in 1506 in Rome during the reign of the ‘Warrior Pope, Julius II, who had a strong admiration for classical artifcats. Not only that, one of those present at its discovery and recovery was none other than the Renaissance legend, Michaelangelo.

This amazing composition depicts the story of Laocoön, a tale from the Greek Epic Cycle on the Trojan Wars. A priest of the sea god Poseidon, Laocoön and his two sons were said to have been killed while trying to expose the lie of the Trojan Horse (Virgil), or he was a celibate priest of Apollo who married (Sophocles) or had sex in Poseidons temple. Like all of the ancient legends, there are countless interpretations, so take your pick. In some versions it was just his sons that were killed. He was killed for being right, or for being wrong. Such are the vagaries of ancient legends.

Reproducing the magnificence of statues like these is never easy on coins. The series Eternal Sculptures by Powercoin & CIT has done by far the best job to date, with its double-sided high relief and marble-style finish. By comparison, this new Mint of Poland coin is a varied mix of positives and negatives. The detail present in the strike is as excellent as you’d expect of this mint, one of the best out there, which you can see in the close-up of the central figure. It’s a quite realistic interpretation of the original. However, it’s quite a stiff look and is lost in a background too packed with repetitive distraction. For me personally, the statue should be bigger and the background less defined. The gilded serpents are also confusing.

Issued for Cameroon, that African nations emblem fills the obverse, along with all the required inscriptions except for the coin name, which sits on the reverse. The coin has a 500 mintage and is presented in a latex ‘skin’ floating frame. Despite my comments, this 2oz coin has a lot going for it and is of a phenomenal piece of ancient art rarely seen on a coin. Available to order this week.

THE LACCOON GROUP

The statue of Laocoön and His Sons, also called the Laocoön Group, has been one of the most famous ancient sculptures ever since it was excavated in Rome in 1506 and placed on public display in the Vatican, where it remains. It is very likely the same statue praised in the highest terms by the main Roman writer on art, Pliny the Elder. The figures are near life-size and the group is a little over 2 m in height, showing the Trojan priest Laocoön and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus being attacked by sea serpents.

The group has been called “the prototypical icon of human agony” in Western art, and unlike the agony often depicted in Christian art showing the Passion of Jesus and martyrs, this suffering has no redemptive power or reward. The suffering is shown through the contorted expressions of the faces (Charles Darwin pointed out that Laocoön’s bulging eyebrows are physiologically impossible), which are matched by the struggling bodies, especially that of Laocoön himself, with every part of his body straining.

Pliny attributes the work, then in the palace of Emperor Titus, to three Greek sculptors from the island of Rhodes: Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus, but does not give a date or patron. In style it is considered “one of the finest examples of the Hellenistic baroque” and certainly in the Greek tradition, but it is not known whether it is an original work or a copy of an earlier sculpture, probably in bronze, or made for a Greek or Roman commission. The view that it is an original work of the 2nd century BC now has few if any supporters, although many still see it as a copy of such a work made in the early Imperial period, probably of a bronze original. Others see it as probably an original work of the later period, continuing to use the Pergamene style of some two centuries earlier. In either case, it was probably commissioned for the home of a wealthy Roman, possibly of the Imperial family. Various dates have been suggested for the statue, ranging from about 200 BC to the 70s AD, though “a Julio-Claudian date [between 27 BC and 68 AD] … is now preferred”.

Although mostly in excellent condition for an excavated sculpture, the group is missing several parts, and analysis suggests that it was remodelled in ancient times and has undergone a number of restorations since it was excavated. It is on display in the Museo Pio-Clementino, a part of the Vatican Museums.(Source: Wikipedia)

Art Mint ad
SPECIFICATION
DENOMINATION 2,000 Francs CFA (Cameroon)
COMPOSITION 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 62.2 grams
DIMENSIONS 450.0 mm
FINISH Antique
MODIFICATIONS High-relief, gilding
MINTAGE 500
BOX / C.O.A. Yes / Yes
European Mint ad
MINT OF POLAND