The painter Frederic Leighton was infatuated with Italian art. His extensive study in Frankfurt, Rome and Paris made him well aware of the way modern figure painting depended on copying Roman sculpture. His paintings of the 1870s resemble classical sculptures, with perfect nudes, precise outlines and rhetorical poses. This is the earlier of his only two life-size sculptures, both made with the assistance of Thomas Brock. In subject and scale it is evidently intended as a challenge to one of the greatest classical sculptures, The Laocoön, showing three men being crushed by two sea serpents.
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