Laocoön and his two sons writhe and struggle, caught in the grip of the serpents that wind among their limbs. The father's large size, powerful musculature, and wild hair and beard contrast with his smaller, smoother-limbed sons. As retold in Greek mythology, the Trojan prince Laocoön angered Apollo by breaking a vow of celibacy he swore to the god and then warning the Trojans not to bring the wooden horse left by the Greeks into the city. To silence him, Apollo sent serpents from the sea to kill him and his sons.
Giovanni Battista Foggini's bronze of this story is based on a famous marble sculpture of the Laocoön unearthed in Rome in 1506. The Roman historian Pliny had described this renowned sculpture in awed language, as "a work to be preferred to all that the arts of painting and sculpture have produced." Its celebrity prompted many bronze reductions, or smaller-scale copies including this one, made in Florence. Although it imitates an antique work, the emotionalism and frontality of this bronze are characteristics of the late Baroque Florentine style.
This type of tabletop bronze was often displayed on a cabinet where it served as a souvenir of the "Grand Tour," evidence of its owner's classical education.