Dying Gaul

Dying Gaul

Dying Gaul. Roman, 1st or 2nd century CE. Marble

The Dying Gaul has arrived in Washington, DC.  The work of art is currently on view at the National Gallery of Art until March 16, 2014.  It is on loan from the Capitoline Museum in Rome, Italy.  The Italian ambassador and the mayor of Rome were on hand to unveil the Dying Gaul in Washington, DC in December.  Their goal is to share the treasures of Italian culture with us.

This piece is truly a masterpiece. It takes my breath away!!!  Looking at the proud warrior one can see that he does not want to succumb to his death.  His right arm is tense as it holds up his injured body as evidenced by the wound on his chest.  His pride is at battle with his body. Yet he is a barbarian, a Gaul, an enemy of the Greeks. He wears a torque around his neck, his hair is snakelike as he probably washed it with lime, and he wears a mustache.  His muscled ideal body tells us what a worthy opponent he is. His body is in motion and he evokes a strong emotion— all characteristics of the Hellenistic period of art.

The Dying Gaul is placed in the Rotunda of the National Gallery of Art.  It was crowded the day my family was there.  I listened to many comments from people around me, “There are four others just like this in Athens”, “I saw this in Florence, Italy at the Pitti Palace” and “This is beautiful”.  Yes, I must agree it is beautiful.  Although we are viewing it differently than people did 2,000 years ago, it was originally painted and today no visible paint remains.  This work of art is a Roman copy created in marble after the bronze original sculpture, now lost, created in the third century BCE.

This is the first time the sculpture has left Italy since its last journey in 1797.  Napoleon III took the sculpture to Paris where it was displayed at the Louvre.  It was returned to Rome in 1816 and that is where it has remained until coming to Washington, DC.

Don’t miss seeing it.  It is a chance to see this masterpiece in the United States.  The American context as opposed to the Capitoline Museum enhanced the importance of the work of art in art history.  In Rome, it sits in the center of a room at the top of the stairs filled with other marble works.  If you walked by the room, you would miss it. Not here, the National Gallery of Art has given it the place it deserves.  You know when you are in the Rotunda you are seeing an important work of art.  This warrior deserves this place of grandeur.

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Roman Portrait Busts

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Flavian Woman

Flavian Woman, 80 CE, Marble

Walking through the Capitoline Museum and the Vatican Museum in Rome recently I saw rooms filled with portrait busts.  Roman sculptors created portrait busts of emperors, their families, gods, goddesses, generals, women, children, etc.  But what interested me as I looked closer at the works of art were the portrait busts of women.  There were so many and each one was very different.  Each one seemed to represent a specific woman in facial features and character but also each had a different hairstyle. The Roman women seemed to be preoccupied with the style of their hair.  I observed that the hair was intricately formed using all kinds of braids, bangs, curls, and hair pulled up in different ways.  For example, Livia, wife of Augustus, has a different hairstyle in each of her portrait busts.  One that really caught my eye was the Flavian Woman in the Capitoline Museum. It was placed all by itself in front of a window which enables the viewer to walk around the work of art.  Her hair has beautiful curls in the front but it was the back that interested me.  Her hair is almost like a cap on the back of her head but looking further I noticed she must have had very long hair.  Her hair is braided and coiled as it is pulled up.  This is something she could not have done by herself.  She must have been a wealthy woman to have someone take care of this for her.  Also remember this work and the others would have been painted. The figures would have looked so much more alive!