Giorgio Vasari about Baccio Bandinelli’s Laocoon copy

There had recently returned from France Cardinal Bernardo Divizio of Bibbiena, who, perceiving that King Francis possessed not a single work in marble, whether ancient or modern, although he much delighted in such things, had promised his Majesty that he would prevail on the Pope to send him some beautiful work. After this Cardinal there came to the Pope two Ambassadors from King Francis, and they, having seen the statues of the Belvedere, lavished all the praise at their command on the Laocoon. Cardinals de Medici and Bibbiena, who were with them, asked them whether the King would be glad to have a work of that kind; and they answered that it would be too great a gift.

Then the Cardinal said to them: There shall be sent to his Majesty either this one or one so like it that there shall be no difference. And, having resolved to have another made in imitation of it, he remembered Baccio, whom he sent for and asked whether he had the courage to make a Laocoon equal to the original. Baccio answered that he was confident that he could make one not merely equal to it, but even surpassing it in perfection. The Cardinal then resolved that the work should be begun, and Baccio, while waiting for the marble to come, made one in wax, which was much extolled, and also executed a cartoon in lead-white and charcoal of the same size as the one in marble. After the marble had come and Baccio had caused an enclosure with a roof for working in to be erected for himself in the Belvedere, he made a beginning with one of the boys of the Laocoon, the larger one, and executed this in such a manner that the Pope and all those who were good judges were satisfied, because between his work and the ancient there was scarcely any difference to be seen. But after setting his hand to the other boy and to the statue of the father, which is in the middle, he had not gone far when the Pope died.

Adrian VI being then elected, he returned with the Cardinal to Florence, where he occupied himself with his studies in design. After the death of Adrian and the election of Clement VII, Baccio went post-haste to Rome in order to be in time for his coronation, for which he made statues and scenes in half relief by order of his Holiness. Then, having been provided by the Pope with rooms and an allowance, he returned to his Lacoon, a work which was executed by him in the space of two years with the greatest excellence that he ever achieved. He also restored the right arm of the ancient Lacoon, which had been broken off and never found, and Baccio made one of the full size in wax, which so resembled the ancient work in the muscles, in force, and in manner, and harmonized with it so well, that it showed how Baccio understood his art; and this model served him as a pattern for making the whole arm of his own Laocoon. This work seemed to his Holiness to be so good, that he changed his mind and resolved to send other ancient statues to the King, and this one to Florence; and to Cardinal Silvio Passerino of Cortona, his Legate in Florence, who was then governing the city, he sent orders that he should place the Lacoon at the head of the second court in the Palace of the Medici. This was in the year 1525.

This work brought great fame to Baccio, who, after finishing the Laocoon, set himself to draw a scene on a sheet of royal folio laid open, in order to carry out a design of the Pope, who wished to have the Martyrdom of San Cosimo and San Damiano painted on one wall of the principal chapel of San Lorenzo in Florence, and on the other that of St. Laurence, when he was put to death by Decius on the gridiron. Baccio then drew with great subtlety the story of St. Laurence, in which he counterfeited with much judgment and art figures both clothed and nude, different attitudes and gestures in the bodies and limbs, and various movements in those who are standing about S. Laurence, engaged in their dreadful office, and in particular the cruel Decius, who with threatening brow is urging on the fiery death of the innocent Martyr, who, raising one arm to Heaven, recommends his spirit to God. With this scene Baccio so satisfied the Pope, that he took steps to have it engraved on copper by Marc Antonio Bolognese, which was done by Marc Antonio with great diligence; and his Holiness created Baccio, in order to do honor to his talents, a Chevalier of S. Pietro.

Translation by Gaston C. DeVere, 1912/1915.

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