Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries & Historical Sites

Dying Gaul

Dying gaul

Dying Gaul

The “Dying Gaul” is an Ancient Roman marble copy of a lost Hellenistic sculpture, executed in bronze, it portrays a Gallic warrior in his last moments, as he struggles from a fatal wound, his face contorted in pain. The marble sculpture depicts a naked man with a Celtic torc around his neck, on the ground atop his shield, wounded and supporting himself with one arm, the other resting weakly on his bent leg. The hand on the ground is next to a broken sword; his head is bent down to the point where we can’t see his face. He is bleeding from a chest wound on the left side of the rib cage, and he is slowly dying.

Greek and Roman historians recorded that the Celts of Asia Minor fought naked and their wounds became visible. According to a Greek historian:

“Our enemies fight naked. What injury could their long hair, their fierce looks, their clashing arms do us? These are mere symbols of barbarian boastfulness.”

The original Greek statue is thought to have been commissioned sometime between 230 and 220 BC by King Attalus I of Pergamon to celebrate his victory over the Galatians in Anatolia, modern Turkey. In 278 BC several Celtic tribes crossed over into Asia Minor and were resisted by the Attalids of Pergamon, who fought to defend the Greek cities in the region.

The Dying Gaul was part of a large sculptural grouping of an epic monument to commemorate the decisive Hellenistic victory over the invading Gauls from nearby Galatia. The lost, probably melted down bronze original was taken from the Pergamon site by Emperor Nero to Rome where it was used to decorate his gigantic gold, jewel-encrusted Golden House.

The “Dying Gaul” became a celebrated work and was engraved and copied by many artists, for whom it was the classic model for depicting emotion and pathos. It became greatly admired among the educated classes in the 17th and 18th centuries and was a “must-see” sight on the Grand Tour of Europe. Byron was one such visitor, commemorating the statue in his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:

“I see before me the Gladiator lie
He leans upon his hand—his manly brow
Consents to death, but conquers agony,
And his drooped head sinks gradually low—
And through his side, the last drops, ebbing slow
From the red gash, fall heavy, one by one…”

The statue of the “Dying Gaul” was widely admired and copied, with many wealthy patrons commissioning their reproductions of the Dying Gaul.

Exploring Ancient Greek Masterpieces

Reflections

  • Why has this portrait of a Dying Gaul caught the imagination of so many artists over the centuries?
  • Would the impact have been different if we could see the original bronze statue?

Dying Gaul

  • Title:                     Dying Gaul
  • Date:                     Original Greek ~ 230 and 220 BCE
  • Date:                     Roman Copy ~ 100 and 200 BCE
  • Material:             Bronze
  • Dimensions:       75 cm × 114 cm (30 in × 45 in)
  • Museums:           Capitoline Museums

~~~

“Gaul is subdued.”
-Julius Caesar

~~~


Photo Credit:1) By Copy after Epigonosantmoose ([1]) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Yair Haklai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons