In modern times, Italy has earned its place as one of the nations with the most art crime in the world. But art forgery is nothing new – The history of forgery in Italy goes way back… to antiquity.
Inside the Vatican Museums, art enthusiasts find one of the most famous sculptures of ancient Greece: the Laocoön, a depiction of the Trojan man by the same name who was cleaver enough not to be fooled by the “gift horse” in the legend of the Fall of Troy. He is depicted in his moment of crisis, as he and his two sons are about to be killed by snakes.
The sculpture was discovered in 1506, by a farmer working in a Roman villa and it was identified as the great ancient sculpture described by Pleni, a Roman writer of the first century. Most remarkable about this piece was that it was known through literary means and then only later discovered in real life. The story goes that the farmer found the sculpture, dug it up and then sold it to the Pope. It was identified as the Laocoön, an ancient sculpture in its original form, that was broken into pieces. There is an ongoing controversy today over the person who pieced it back together and whether that person may have been responsible for more. It is a well-known fact that Michelangelo helped to restore the ancient sculpture, but some historians believe that the sculpture was created by a great artist like Michelangelo and passed off as an ancient one. What may be more surprising to find out is that several artists at the time made their money creating fakes, as some do today.
Could Michelangelo really be the one who sculpted the Laocoön?
The secret will be revealed in the premiere broadcast of Museum Secrets: Inside the Vatican.
Here’s an exclusive episode outtake with two historians featured in the episode discussing whether it is plausible that Michelangelo could have forged the sculpture.