From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Dying Gaul (in Italian: Galata Morente) is an ancient Roman marble copy of a lost Hellenistic sculpture that is thought to have been executed in bronze, which was commissioned some time between 230 BC and 220 BC by Attalos I of Pergamon to celebrate his victory over the Celtic Galatians in Anatolia. The present base was added after its rediscovery. The identity of the sculptor of the original is unknown, but it has been suggested that Epigonus, the court sculptor of the Attalid dynasty of Pergamon, may have been its author.
The statue depicts a dying Celt with remarkable realism, particularly in the face, and may have been painted. He is represented as a Gallic warrior with a typically Gallic hairstyle and moustache. The figure is naked save for a neck torc. He is shown fighting against death, refusing to accept his fate. He lies on his fallen shield. A sword and other objects lie beside him.
Influence in art history
The Dying Gaul became one of the most celebrated works to have survived from antiquity and was engraved and endlessly copied by artists, for whom it was a classic model for depiction of strong emotion, and by sculptors. It shows signs of having been repaired, with the head seemingly having been broken off at the neck, though it is unclear whether the repairs were carried out in Roman times or after the statue's 17th century rediscovery.
The artistic quality and expressive pathos of the statue aroused great admiration among the educated classes in the 17th and 18th centuries and was a "must-see" sight on the Grand Tour of Europe undertaken by young men of the day. Byron was one such visitor, commemorating the Dying Gaul in his poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage:
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...
It was widely copied, with kings, academics and wealthy landowners commissioning their own reproductions of the Dying Gaul. The less well-off could purchase copies of the statue in miniature for use as ornaments and paperweights. More basic, full-size plaster copies were also studied by art students.
During this period, the statue was widely interpreted as representing a defeated gladiator, rather than a Gallic warrior. Hence it was known as the 'Dying' or 'Wounded Gladiator', 'Roman Gladiator', and 'Murmillo Dying'. It has also been called the 'Dying Trumpeter', because one of the scattered objects lying beside the figure is a horn.
It was requisitioned by Napoleon Bonaparte by terms of the Treaty of Campoformio (1797) during his invasion of Italy and taken in triumph to Paris, where it was put on display. It was returned to Rome in 1815 and is currently on display in the Capitoline Museums.