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The Laocoön was a life-size, classical sculpture group which was excavated in Rome in 1506, an event said to have been witnessed by Michelangelo. The group was installed in the Belvedere of the Vatican where it remains to this day.

The story of Laocoön is taken from the second book of the Aeneid. Laocoön, a priest in Troy who, justifiably, warned the Trojans not to allow the wooden horse to be brought into the city, was punished by the gods. Along with his two sons he was entwined with snakes and squeezed to death. The sculpture shows their doomed struggle.

It was very influential for Renaissance artists; drawings and copies of it circulated and it became widely known. A contemporary writer referred to Titian's 'Bacchus and Ariadne' as the 'painting...where Laocoön is painted', a reference to the man in the foreground wreathed in snakes.