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Dying Gaul back home

Famed sculpture returns to Capitoline Museums after US trip

20 March, 16:59
Dying Gaul back home (ANSA) - Rome, March 20 - Rome's famed statue of the Dying Gaul is back in the Capitoline Museums after a six-month trip to the National Gallery in Washington. Created in the first or second century AD, the Dying Gaul is one of the most renowned works from antiquity. The Washington exhibition marked the first time it had left Italy since 1797, when Napoleonic forces took the sculpture to Paris, where it was displayed at the Louvre until its return to Rome in 1816. "A universally recognized masterpiece, the Dying Gaul is a deeply moving celebration of the human spirit," the US gallery said in promoting the show.

Rome Culture Councillor Flavia Barca said when the statue returned Thursday: "Our patrimony belongs to all. Fostering exchanges is a boon to culture".

Many people believe the Dying Gaul celebrates a Roman conquest, but it was actually commissioned by Attalus I (269-197 BC), first king of Pergamum in modern-day Turkey.

The statue commemorates Attalus's triumphant victory over a Gallic tribe known as the Galatians in 238 BC.

The Dying Gaul was reunited with its slightly less famous twin, The Gaul Committing Suicide, in the latter's home in Palazzo Altemps, at the eastern end of Piazza Navona, for a sold-out show in 1999.

Both are Roman copies of bronze originals that adorned a long-lost victory monument built by Attalus I to the goddess Athena in 228 BC.

The kingdom of Pergamum was the political and cultural capital of western Asia Minor, which is within the borders of the modern Turkey.

The Gauls, a powerful warrior race that later migrated westwards to spread Celtic civilisation to most of Europe, had forced the kingdom to pay tribute until Attalus defeated them in battle. In Asia Minor the Gauls were called Galatians.

In homage to their courage, Attalus commissioned an unknown sculptor to craft the two works. The copies were so admired that imperial Rome ordered marble copies made in the first century AD - one of them, the Dying Gaul, was ordered by Julius Caesar to mark his own triumph against the Gauls of present-day France, Belgium, Switzerland and parts of Germany. The patron of the other copy is unknown.

The Dying Gaul - a mortally wounded warrior poised on his side, wearing only a characteristic neck circlet called a torque, his war-horn lying beside him - is one of the main attractions at the Capitoline Museums. The author may have been the famous sculptor Epigonus, who treated a similar theme.

The other statue in Palazzo Altemps, The Gaul (or Galatian) Committing Suicide, also known as the Ludovisi Gaul, is an imposing marble group of a warrior with his wife slumped dead or dying beside him, about to plunge a sword down through his collar-bone in a most unusual pose.

Like the Dying Gaul, it was unearthed during excavations at Rome's Villa Ludovisi - home to the aristocratic family of the same name - between 1621 and 1625. The villa stands on the site of the residences of Rome's power and cultural elite, including Julius Caesar and the historian Sallust.

Art history experts are unsure as to whether the statues were uncovered at the same time and separated immediately or later.

The Dying Gaul - long known as the Dying Gladiator - was sold by a Ludovisi prince to settle a debt, later bought back, and then sold to Pope Clement XII in 1737, to become a centrepiece of the Capitoline museum. The statue was damaged when it was found, and Michelangelo was asked to rebuild its right arm.

Velazquez had a copy of it made for the King of Spain in 1650, while another copy was sent to the King of France and is now in the gardens at Versailles.

The English Romantic poet Lord Byron wrote a poem entitled The Dying Gladiator in 1817. The statue is famous for capturing the poignant nobility of a felled foe whom the Romans admired - and thought mad - for fighting without armour.

Gauls whipped themselves up into a berserker-like frenzy before battle, inducing what they called a 'body-warp' they thought made them invulnerable or at least invincible.

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