Crying Laocoon: The visual arts of translation

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The essay charts the shifting place of Laocoon as an exemplum of translation across the arts of word and image from Pliny to Clement Greenberg. It uncovers a rich history of artistic translation, reproduction, and imitation of Laocoon in Renaissance drawing, painting, prints, decorative arts, and sculpture of every size and material, from plaster casts to table-top porcelains. The paper subsequently follows the changing fate of Laocoon within artistic pedagogies as a study in word-image relations, from a Renaissance teaching model, to the trope of critical theory on the definition of ‘art’. Thus, the term ‘translation’ is used advisedly, to signal acts of artistic transmission predicated on transfer not only between cultures, but across materials and media. The essay concludes by considering the continuing place of Laocoon within art criticism, albeit in radical antagonism to the ideals of art it was once held to embody, to address the contested formation of an art ‘classic’ through the cultural as well as material processes of artistic translation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-334
JournalTranslator: Studies in Intercultural Communication
Issue number4
Early online date20 Apr 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Apr 2020


  • inter-medial translation
  • drawing
  • painting
  • print
  • plaster cast
  • classic


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