The copy of the Laocoon
Baccio owes the commission for the Hercules and Cacus in part to the copy of the Laocoon he had made for them. This true scale copy of Baccio was intended for King Francis I of France. The famous statue of the Laocoon, as mentioned earlier, was described by Pliny the Elder in his ‘Natural History’ (XXXVI.iv.37), as: ‘A work better than any other art of painting and sculpture ever made. Sculpted from one block of stone by Hagesandros, Athenodoros and Polydoros of Rhodes […]’ A group of sculptures, ex uno lapide, was seen as a demonstration of mastery, and Michelangelo had already created his Pietà (Saint Peter): two figures from one block. Although the Laocoön no longer was considered a ‘single piece of marble’, as it consisted of five blocks, it was still greatly admired. In the words of the poet Trivulzio, quoting Michelangelo: ‘struck with divine skill.’ The copy of Bandinelli was made in Rome, but is now in the Uffizi.
One problem was that at that time, the right arm of the priest, Laocoon, was missing. The arm, or at least a large part of it, was not found until the beginning of the twentieth century. Baccio made a wax arm at Giulio’s request. Copies of the Laocoon had already been made before, including by Jacopo Sansovino: a large wax model that was later cast in bronze. Bramante commissioned three other sculptors to make copies. However, these copies were not made to scale. According to Raphael, Jacopo Sansovino had won the battle, but his wax model and his bronze statue have unfortunately disappeared. Sansovino’s copy was about three times smaller than the original. Jacopo made a specialty of copying and also made versions in stucco, but all were relatively small.
Nowadays, copies of an original are certainly not seen as art, on the contrary. In the sixteenth century this was looked at very differently, because people were used to imitatio. Unlike other artists, Baccio used the same material and an identical format.
Bandinelli first made a wax model before he started the actual work. Vasari praises the copy of Baccio as follows: When the marbles had come and Baccio had a fence with a roof built in Belvedere to be able to work, he started with one of the children of Laocoon, the biggest of the two, and he did this in a way that satisfied the Pope and all those who knew about it, because there was almost no difference between the antique statue and his copy.’ According to Vasari in his Life of Baccio Bandinell” Cited and translated from: Kieft, G., ‘Het brein van Michelangelo Kunst, Kunsttheorie en de constructie van het beeld in de Italiaanse Renaissance’, Proefschrift (dissertation) Utrecht 1994 68
The three sculptors of the Laocoon from Rhodes had used five pieces of marble. Bandinelli used three. Michelangelo, who was keeping a close eye on competition, was informed of this remarkable fact in a letter: ‘and he [Baccio] does it in pieces,’ and this reassured Buonarroti.
When Cardinal Giulio calls Baccio to him and asks if he wants to make another copy, he answers that he might even be able to make one that surpasses the original. The Laocoon of Bandinelli never went to France. Clemens VII thought the statue itself was far too beautiful: he sent it to the Medici palace where it was installed.
Bandinelli’s Pietà in front of his grave: a completely different composition of a Pietà than the Duomo Pietà by Michelangelo
Baccio followed Michelangelo’s example. He also made a self-portrait of the Nicodemus in the Pietà. The statue was made for his grave in the Santissima Annunziata, where it can still be seen today. Of course Baccio Bandinelli tried to surpass Michelangelo’s Pietà (Opera del Duomo) with his work, as Vasari writes: ‘To measure himself with this, [Michelangelo’s Duomo Pietà] Baccio went about making his own [grave statue] with great accuracy, and with helpers, and he did it. And for this he went looking for a place in the most important churches of Florence, where he could place it, and create a grave.’ (Vasari cited from: Kieft p. 77). His Pietà is also carved ex uno lapido, but the composition is very different. In addition to the two figures, Bandinelli wanted to add a third freestanding figure: John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence. However, this figure was lost.
The way in which Bandinelli portrays himself in his tomb is quite different from Buonarroti’s self-portrait. Michelangelo, as Nicodemus, is completely absorbed in the suffering of Christ and does not look at you. Baccio looks directly at the spectator in front of the tomb. Michelangelo suppresses his specific features in order to accentuate devotion. Baccio, on the other hand, idealises his face and looks at you self-confidently, with hardly any sorrow. Baccio is more of an intermediary between Christ and the viewer.
The ‘signature’ can be found on the block that carries the body of Christ. Baccio was afraid that he would die before the statue was completed. He instructed his son, Clemente, about what exactly should be on the block: his name as a donor, but also as a maker. DIVINIAE PIET[ATI] B. BANDINELLI H[OC]
SIBI SEPUL[CHRUM] FABREF [ACIEBAT] Dedicated to the Pietà and in the hope of divine compassion with the donor, a handmade grave with skilled art. Then there is another text: Knight in the order of Saint James, rests here with his wife Jacoba Doni under the statue of the Redeemer that he made himself.
At the back of the monument Baccio and his wife are depicted again in relief. Bandinelli always used the word: faciebat. But not here: fabrefaciebat or fabrefecit. The heading is posthumous. Clemente made it to his father’s strict directions. However, the involvement of the bastard son in this work is not mentioned.