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Dying Gaul and Ludovisi Gaul

Dying Gaul, 1st or 2nd century C.E. (Roman copy of Third Century B.C.E. Hellenistic bronze commemorating Pergamon's victory over the Gauls likely from the Sanctuary of Athena at Pergamon), marble, 93 cm high (Musei Capitolini, Rome)
Gaul killing himself and his wife (The Ludovisi Gaul), 1st or 2nd century C.E. (Roman copy of Third Century B.C.E. Hellenistic bronze commemorating Pergamon's victory over the Gauls likely from the Sanctuary of Athena at Pergamon), marble, 211 cm high (Palazzo Altemps, Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome)

Drs. Beth Harris and Stevene Zucker

Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

(soft piano music snippet) - [Dr. Zucker] We're in the Capitoline Museum, looking at one of their most important sculptures, The Dying Gaul. - [Dr. Harris] This sculpture, I think, is so interesting, because of the deep humanity that the sculptor depicted. This is the man at the moments just before his death. - [Dr. Zucker] You can see how powerful he was, but he's now losing his strength, he can barely hold himself up. You can see that he's bleeding from a wound in his side. A sword lays beside him, broken. Two horns lay beside him, he was a trumpeter. - [Dr. Harris] And you can see the pain and agony clearly on his face. - [Dr. Zucker] It's fascinating, because you have the beauty of the body, but also its destruction. - [Dr. Harris] It is impossible to stand in this gallery and not feel empathy. We're in the gallery filled with gods and goddesses and other figures from classical antiquity, but none of them display the depth of emotion that we see here in The Dying Gaul. Now, this was found here in Rome, on the grounds of the Palazzo Ludovisi in the 17th century, and it was found along with another sculpture that's also here in Rome, but in a different museum. - [Dr. Zucker] And this is important, because we believe that those sculptures were originally made to be shown together, not here in Rome, but in Pergamon, close to the coast of what is now Turkey, but what was then an important capital in the Hellenistic world. - [Dr. Harris] We think that they were part of a unified monument with, likely, many other figures. Now, these are Roman marble copies of what were bronze originals. - [Dr. Zucker] So let's untangle that a little bit. Sculptures in bronze were made for a monument in Pergamon that were seen as important enough to be copied in marble by the Romans. They were lost in antiquity and then found in the 17th century, and are now in two separate museums in Rome. - [Dr. Harris] We believe these two sculptures form part of a monument memorializing a victory of the Pergamon kingdom over Gaul. - [Dr. Zucker] But generally, when we think of a military victory being memorialized in sculpture, we think of the victors being shown triumphantly, something that speaks clearly of their valor. Instead, what we have here is a sympathetic portrait of the defeated. - [Dr. Harris] In fact, we don't think that the victors were shown at all in this monument, that it only focused on those who were defeated, on the Gauls, and this figure is easily identifiable as a Gaul because of his long hair, the ring that he wears, or torc, around his neck, and his mustache. - [Dr. Zucker] We've taken a taxi from the Capitoline Museum over to the Palazzo Altemps, which is another museum in Rome, the one that holds the other part of this sculptural group, known as The Ludovisi Gaul. - [Dr. Harris] This is a difficult sculpture. This is a dramatic image of a man who's killed his wife and is committing suicide himself. - [Dr. Zucker] We think that this might have been one of the chieftans, who's killing himself rather than allowing him and his wife to be captured. - [Dr. Harris] So this is difficult, not only because of the gruesome subject matter, this suicide and murder, but also, it's just over-the-top in so many ways. It's what art historians sometimes refer to as the Hellenistic Baroque. - [Dr. Zucker] After the restraint of classical Greek art, the Hellenistic becomes operatic, it becomes dramatic, and here we see sculptures that are pushing beyond the boundaries of their pedestal, where we have limbs that are lifted. There's a compositional freedom that is absolutely new to Greek sculpture. - [Dr. Harris] The figure of the Gaul, clearly identifiable by his mustache, by his thick, wavy hair, is striding forward into our space. - [Dr. Zucker] Look at the way that his left arm runs down and visually connects with her left arm, creating this serpentine line. - [Dr. Harris] What's interesting is that, as we stand in front of the sculpture, in the direction that the figure is striding toward, we can only see his face in profile. - [Dr. Zucker] If we want to see his face frontally, we have to turn to the left so that we can no longer see the sword, and then we can see his full face, although only obliquely. He seems to turn away from us in shame, humiliated by his defeat. Seen separately, The Dying Gaul is so quiet and so full of human sympathy. This sculpture elicits a very different kind of reaction, it's a kind of unrestrained drama. I wonder if we would see The Dying Gaul differently if these sculptures were still together. (soft piano music snippet)