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Howling at the Moon over the Vatican


The Pope's office of Safe but Clichéd Titles is calling it "Vatican Museums under the Stars." But I think a far more fun title would be something like 'Howl at the Moon over the Vatican." And they could feature these scary canines from the Pio-Clementino wing of the museum as their poster pooches.

It was fun visiting the Vatican museums at night -- the lighting is, of course, very different and so the effect on the art was very different. The mood was a bit more relaxed, like kids on a field trip.

Still, I don't think anything was broken or stolen (at least, not by me) so perhaps the Vatican will make this a permanent feature. Particularly in summer, when the lines of visitors to get into this famous museum (actually, a series of museums) can stretch into many hours' wait for some. Many, I imagine, only want to see the Sistine Chapel. But still, why make their lives worse with enormous lineups?


Several sections of the museums were not open when I visited Friday night. But I was still able see other favourites, including poor old Laocoon, who is shown with his sons howling against killer serpeants.


The statue of Laocoon and his sons is a monumental marble sculpture that was attributed by the Roman author Pliny the Elder to three sculptors from the island of Rhodes. It shows the Trojan priest Laocoon and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus being strangled by sea serpents.

Laocoon was killed after he attempted to expose the Greek's ruse of the Trojan Horse, by striking it with a spear. The snakes were apparently sent either by Apollo or Poseidon as punishment, and were interpreted by the Trojans as proof that the horse was a sacred object. They were clearly very wrong, and we know the rest of the story from Odysseus who sacked Troy, driving out Aeneas who went on to found the city of Rome.

So it seems that all is well that ends well!

Various dates have been suggested for the statue, ranging from about 160 BC to about 20 BC. It's believed that the statue was probably commissioned for the home of a wealthy Roman, and it was unearthed in 1506 near the site of the Golden House of the Emperor Nero (who reigned from 54 to 68 AD), and it is possible that the statue belonged to Nero himself.

It was acquired by Pope Julius II soon after its discovery and was placed in the Belvedere Garden at the Vatican.

Comments (5)

How special to wander the museums at night. The one disappointment from my trip through the museum in 2006 was that the Laocoon was out and replaced by a plaster cast - porca miseria! Apparently it was the 500th anniversary of its discovery so it was being spruced up for the celebration. Thanks for the reminder that I need to get back!

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, great post. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed your visit at the Vatican Museum at night. I found reading about the statue Laocoon really interesting. Amazing how long ago it was made and it looks to be in great shape.

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. Keep on having fun.


Hi Jerry, I'm sure you'll be able to see the Laocoon next time -- it's very dramatic and in a great setting. The sculpture gallery is open to the sky in the centre, with lots of benchs and no crowds so it's a great place to relax for a few minutes and admire the art!

Thanks Kathy, I'm having a wonderful time -- hope all is well with your trip planning!

I love the scary canines!

I have only visited the Vatican Museums once many many years ago. I have not gone back because of the crowds. Great idea to go at night.

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