Du Laocoon, Ou Des Limites Respectives De La Poésie Et De La Peinture: traduit de l'allemand de G.E. Lessing, Par Charles Vanderbourg. [Device]

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

RA Collection: Book

Record number



Uniform Title

[Laokoon Oder Uber Die Grenzen Der Malerei Und Poesie., French., Vanderbourg.]


A Paris,: Chez Antoine-Augustin Renouard., An X - 1802.

Physical Description

xvi, 384 p., frontis.; 200 mm. (Octavo.)


[Half-t., frontis., t.p.] - Avertissement Du Traducteur - Préface - [Text] - Supplément Au Laocoon, Composé des matériaux destinés à la continuation de cet Ouvrage, qui ont été trouvés parmi les manuscrits de l'Auteur après son decès - Notes.

Responsibility Note

The frontispiece is signed as drawn by J.G. Salvage and engraved by Aug St. Aubin.


Extracts are quoted in Art in Theory 1648-1815 An Anthology, ed. C. Harrison et al. (2000), p.477-86. The impact of the work is discussed in A. Ugrinsky, Lessing and the Enlightenment (1986); D.E. Wellberry, Lessing's Laokoon (1984); M. Allentuck, 'Henry Fuseli and Lessing', in Lessing Ybk., I (1969), p.178-86.

On Vandenbourg see R. Mortier, Un Precurseur de Madame de Stael: Charles Vanderbourg 1765-1827 (1955).

Summary Note

The work had first been published in German in 1766 (Laokoon Oder Uber Die Grenzen Der Malerei Und Poesie).

In his text Lessing takes up an assertion made by J.J. Winckelmann in his Gedanken uber die Nachahmung der griechischen Werke in der Malerei und Bilhauerkunst (1755) that the ancient statue representing the agonising death of Laocoön and his two sons under an attack by serpents (a Greek legend recounted by Vergil in his Aeneid) showed a restrained 'noble simplicity and calm grandeur'. Lessing argues that this was not the result of a general restraint in all ancient Greek arts, but because the limits of expression in poetry are different from those in the visual arts. He also argues that narrative is better accommodated by verbal than visual forms, while visual arts should represent some choice moment - a view contested by G.C. Lichtenberg in his essays on Hogarth, Ausführliche Erklärung der Hogarthschen Kupferstiche (1784-96).

The frontispiece shows the statue of Laocoön and his sons.

The celebrated statue which stimulated Lessing's essay was, at the time of the publication of Vanderbourg's translation, in Paris, having been expropriated from Rome by Napoleon.


The half-title is inscribed in ink, 'Royal Academy from H. Howard' (i.e. Henry Howard, R.A., Secretary of the Royal Academy 1811-47).

Binding Note

19th-century half calf, brown cloth-covered boards; rebacked in 1989, black morocco spine-label lettered 'Du Laocoon', spine lettered 'Vanderbourg 1802'.

Name as Subject


Emotion - Expression - Arts - Theory - Germany - Europe - 18th century
Arts - Sculpture - Statues - Greece - History
Essays - Germany - 18th century
Essays - Translations from German - Translations into French - France - 19th century


Antoine Augustin Renouard, publisher
Charles Vanderbourg, translator
Henry Howard RA, previous owner, donor
Jean-Galbert Salvage, draughtsman
Augustin de Saint-Aubin, engraver