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Wednesday 25 July 2018

Jan de Bisschop’s etching, “Elder Son of Laocoon”, c1670

Jan de Bisschop (aka Johannes Episcopius) (1628–1671)

“Elder Son of Laocoon”, c1669–71, plate 56 from the series of 157 etchings, “Signorum Veterum Icones” published in two volumes by Nicolaas Visscher II (1649 – 1702) in 1672. This etching is purportedly based on Baccio Bandinelli’s (1493–1560) reconstructed copy of the antique sculpture, “Laocoön and His Sons” (aka “The Laocoön Group”), in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Etching on fine laid paper with narrow margins backed with a support sheet.
Size: (sheet) 24 x 11.1 cm; (plate) 23.3 x 10.3 cm
Inscribed on plate: (upper right corner) “56”; (lower right) (monogram of the artist) ''JE f.'' (Nagler III.2254)

Hollstein 6 (F W H Hollstein 1949, “Dutch and Flemish etchings, engravings and woodcuts c.1450-1700”, Amsterdam); Van Gelder 1985 I.141.56 (Jan Van Gelder & Ingrid Jost 1985, “Jan de Bisschop and his Icones & Paradigmata”, 2, Doornspijk, Davaco).

The British Museum offers the following description of this print:
“Statue of the elder son of Laocoon with the snake and parts of Laocoon's left leg; back view; probably after Baccio Bandinelli's reconstruction” (

Condition: crisp, well-inked and well-printed early impression (based on the lack of wear to the plate) with narrow margins backed with a support sheet of archival (millennium quality) washi paper. There is a closed tear towards the centre of the left side, otherwise the sheet is in good condition with minor signs of handling (i.e. there are a few marks/spots).

I am selling this intriguing etching showing a fragment of the antique sculpture, “Laocoön and His Sons”, for AU$176 in total (currently US$131.58/EUR111.62/GBP99.20 at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world (but not, of course, any import duties/taxes imposed by some countries).

If you are interested in purchasing beautifully rendered figure—the elder son of Laocoon—battling with a serpent, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

From my understanding of the 157 plates in the series, “Signorum Veterum Icones”, they were designed to be artistic study pieces showcasing major artworks from the past. Mindful of this envisaged role, I can see the reason why De Bisschop chose this particular section of the famous antique sculpture, “Laocoön and His Sons”, to render: the modelling of the figure’s back is a perfect display of manly muscles and a bubble butt.

At this point I should discuss meaningful features of this study piece—such as the principle that there are (almost) no concavities in the silhouette edge of a figure—but I hesitate as I remember reading an analysis of this sculpture by the extraordinary arts writer, Peter Fuller. Fuller recounted a moment of interaction in a lecture with the insight that there is no need to explain in technical terms how the dynamic play of muscles connote that the figures are in distress. After all, we can see clearly that the serpent is killing the boys!

For those who may be unfamiliar with the reason why this figure—the elder son of Laocoon—along with his brother and father are sculpted battling a snake, the reason is (…and I may be wrong) as punishment for his father jabbing his spear into the soldier-filled Trojan horse to reveal that the horse was a military ruse. An alternative reason for the boys’ engagement with the monstrous snake is because their father had sex with his wife in the temple of Poseidon. (What a shameless dude!)

The Curator of the British Museum offers the following information about the subject portrayed in this print:

“This statue of the oldest son of Laocoon, probably after Baccio Bandinelli's reconstruction of the antique group … is now in the Uffizi in Florence (inv. no. 284). The etching shows the figure in reverse, but no draughtsman's name was mentioned. Neither this, nor any intermediary drawing have come to light. In his list of contents and locations De Bisschop says that this plate shows a detail of the antique group. However the viewpoint as well as at least one detail make it likely that Bandinelli's group is reproduced. His group comes closest to this plate because the boy's right heel rests on a slab whereas in both the antique group and the Louvre cast it is raised without any support”

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