a sculptor, a native of the island of Rhodes. His name occurs in no author except Pliny (Plin. Nat. 36.5. s. 4
), and we know but of one work which he executed; it is a work however which bears the most decisive testimony to his surpassing genius.
In conjunction with Polydorus and Athenodorus he sculptured the group of Laocoon, a work which is ranked by all competent judges among the most perfect specimens of art, especially on account of the admirable manner in which amidst the intense suffering portrayed in every feature, limb, and muscle, there is still preserved that air of sublime repose, which characterised the best productions of Grecian genius.
This celebrated group was discovered in the year 1506, near the baths of Titus on the Esquiline hill : it is now preserved in the museum of the Vatican. Pliny does not hesitate to pronounce it superior to all other works both of statuary and painting.
A great deal has been written respecting the age when Agesander flourished, and various opinions have been held on the subject. Winckelmann and Müller, forming their judgment from the style of art displayed in the work itself, assign it to the age of Lysippus. Miller thinks the intensity of suffering depicted, and the somewhat theatrical air which pervades the group, shews that it belongs to a later age than that of Phidias. Lessing and Thiersch on the other hand, after subjecting the passage of Pliny to an accurate examination, have come to the conclusion, that Agesander and the other two artists lived in the reign of Titus, and sculptured the group expressly for that emperor ; and this opinion is pretty generally acquiesced in.
In addition to many other reasons that might be mentioned, if space permitted, if the Laocoon had been a work of antiquity, we can hardly understand how Pliny should have ranked it above all the works of Phidias, Polycletus, Praxiteles, and Lysippus.
But we can account for his exaggerated praise, if the group was modern and the admiration excited by its execution in Rome still fresh. Thiersch has written a great deal to shew that the plastic art did not decline so early as is generally supposed, but continued to flourish in full vigour from the time of Phidias uninterruptedly down to the reign of Titus. Pliny was deceived in saying that the group was sculptured out of one block, as the lapse of time has discovered a join in it.
It appears from an inscription on the pedestal of a statue found at Nettuno (the ancient Antium) that Athenodorus was the son of Agesander.
This makes it not unlikely that Polydorus also was his son, and that the father executed the figure of Laocoon himself, his two sons the remaining two figures. (Lessing, Laokoon ;
Winckelmann, Gesch. d. Kunst,
10.1, 10; Thiersch, Epochen d. bild. Kunst.
p. 318, &c.; Müller, Archäologie d. Kunst,