The Dying Gaul Arrives in D.C.


Although a slightly morbid theme for a debut blog, artistically the Dying Gaul captures the remarkable beauty and craftsmanship of art in antiquity. A masterpiece of this caliber merits further exploration and discussion on my newly launched blog, especially considering the Dying Gaul has never been on U.S soil before! Welcome everyone and let’s talk art!

I decided to scout out for myself all the hoopla surrounding this celebrated piece with a trip to the National Gallery of Art. The Dying Gaul is a must see for any art enthusiast – if you happen to be in the nation’s capital, it is certainly worth a peek! Along with his famous brethren of the Roman copy breed, notably the Vatican’s Laocoon and Apollo Belvedere, the Dying Gaul’s level of detail is truly remarkable. Like all works dating from the 1st / 2nd century AD, the Dying Gaul is slightly larger than human scale, but his proportions are exact. Tick “Antique Sculpture 101” Box 1.

It is rather obvious, but one is immediately impressed by this celebration of the human body. In relation to the high level of detail achieved, I was first and foremost drawn to the realistic quality of the torso that really brought me into this scene. The skin folds around the stomach area, the subtle protruding rib cage, smooth abdominal muscles, breast bone and finally the sharp collarbones are so masterfully crafted, I’m endlessly waiting for this dying warrior to gasp for his last breath. The body itself as a focal point, represents life by containing the heart, the core of human viability. Most importantly, one cannot over look the bleeding wound, an impediment to this continued existence that is framed by the soldier’s arms, legs and head. Although a barbaric tribesman, there is a beautiful quality of the natural, organic being on one level, while also exemplifying a noble stoicism in the face of impending death that really speaks to viewers.

Enough of general observations, onto more substantive comments that will enhance your own experience of the Dying Gaul (and also impress friends / family who will accompany you on this visit!). A supporting cast of features are tucked away, but are equally important to understanding the sculpture’s meaning and story. Don’t be shy, get up close and personal with this fella!

Holly’s highlights – details to look for:
1. A sword lies idle close to the Gaul’s right hand (along with an accompanying belt), with a handsomely crafted handle in the shape of a dog. Again exemplifying beautiful details of animal-like hair and eyes – this is concealed near the Gaul’s backside, so do get a 360 view!

2. Our main man rests upon a flat, oval-shaped shield with a wave motif along its perimeter. This particular pattern, known as the Vitruvian scroll is named after Rome’s most celebrated architectural historian, Vitruvius of the 1st century BC and is a design primarily found in architecture. Clearly this is an addition to the Roman copy, unlikely present on the Greek bronze original. Perhaps its inclusion pays homage to the greatness of Rome by commemorating one of its finest artistic master. It is also worth mentioning that this ornamentation is known as the running dog pattern – binding together both shield and sword, an essential military pairing for any soldier.

3. As any keen observer will notice, the Gallic man has a thick head of hair and mustache (hello Tom Selleck!). Each segment of hair is complete with detailed strands. However upon closer observation, some pieces of the Gaul’s mane end in soft curls while others appear to come to an abrupt end. It appears as though this tribesman has experienced a series of haircuts over the years, with longer pieces having been broken off – this is especially noticeable along the crown of the head.

Holly knows art. If you do visit this famous work of art, you’ll join the ranks of other notable artists (painters, poets, writers, architects etc.) who were equally inspired by the Dying Gaul’s ability to convey courage and sadness through an elegantly crafted piece of marble.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s