Laocoön, a Trojan priest of Poseidon (or Apollo, according to Virgil’s Roman account), had warned his fellow citizens about the wooden horse left by the Greeks as a gift outside the city gates. The Gods Athena and Poseidon, who favoured the Greeks and did not want their ploy to conquer the city to Troy to be foiled, sent two great sea-serpents to kill the priest.
The Laocoön Group, depicting Laocoön and his two sons struggling in vain against the serpents coiled around them, is
one of the most famous ancient sculptures ever excavated. It was found on the Esquiline Hill in Rome in 1506, and was soon identified as the Laocoön described by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia as a masterpiece of the sculptors of Rhodes. It was moved to the sculpture garden of the Belvedere at the Vatican at the time of Pope Julius II.
Since the very early days of its discovery, this magnificent gruppo scultoreocaptured the attention of many artists. 'Reverence for and rivalry with the sculpture motivated a contemporary response as artists swiftly set about restoring, reproducing and imitating the legendary work' (Viljoen, 2016). Inspired by a revived interest and love for the art of antiquity, and enthralled by this most spectacular and dramatic of ancient statues, a number of printmakers turned to the subject. Among them, Marco Dente da Ravenna depicted the monument in two engravings: one in a rather free interpretation set in a coastal landscape with temples (B. 243), and the present, much more faithful one, against the background of a charmingly ruined and overgrown, ancient wall. It is the only engraving by Marco Dente that is fully and proudly signed on the plinth: MARCUS٠ RAVENAS٠.
See M. Viljoen, in: E. H. Wouk & D. Morris (eds.), Marcantonio Raimondi, Raphael and the Image Multiplied, Manchester, 2016, no. 27-28, p. 162-5.