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Nero's Golden House | The Influence of Classical Greek Sculpture on Italian Renaissance Art

The Laocoon, Hellenistic Classical Greek Sculpture, 1st c. B.C.E.

The Laocoon
by Athanadoros, Hagesandros, and Polydoros
of Rhodes, 1st century B.C.E.
Hellenistic Classical Greek Sculpture,
Vatican Museums, Rome

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The Roman emperor Nero collected classical Greek sculpture from all over the empire to decorate his Domus Aurea, or Golden House, a pleasure palace. One such classical Greek sculpture of the Hellenistic period was the famous Laocoon. When Michelangelo was in Rome to begin work on the Tomb of Pope Julius II, he was actually present at the discovery of the classical Greek sculpture of the Laocoon. In 1506, a young man in Rome fell through a hole in the Aventine hillside to find himself in a cavernous space surrounded by painted figures. This grotto was the subterranean remains of Nero's Golden House, buried beneath later Roman construction after the suicide of the despot.

Italian Renaissance Artists Flocked To Nero's Golden House To See Newly Found Classical Greek Sculpture

Since its discovery, this grotto attracted artists like Raphael and Michelangelo, and many others who went down shafts to study the classical Greek sculpture and frescoes, carving their signatures into the walls. Classical Greek sculpture like the Laocoon played a large part in the development of Italian Renaissance art with its emotional, bold figure style. The classical Greek sculpture of the Laocoon was found within the center room of the Domus Aurea. This new antique source material instantly electrified creative minds. Artists were not only influenced by the classical Greek sculpture found there, but by the decorative elements of Roman fresco style with its elaborate swags and landscapes with figures. The Domus Aurea covered a vast space, occupying three of the seven hills of Rome. It is said that Nero imprisoned Rome's finest painter in it to decorate his new palace.

Brenda Harness, Art Historian

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