People! Do you realize what we have before us at the National Gallery of Art for only a few precious days more? It's a masterpiece of time, one of the enduring pieces of art which students the world over study and observe with mouths open wide.
The work by an unknown artist has been compared to the Winged Victory of Samothrace and Michelangelo's David, two of the best known and most studied sculptures in art history.
It is one of the world's antiquities, a treasure which has survived the ages, spending hundreds of years buried in a Roman garden, and later, as a kidnapping victim by Napoleon who stole it from Rome in 1797 and carted it off to Paris for showcasing at the Louvre for almost 20 years.
Dying Gaul is a marble beauty, a model of a Greek bronze made supposedly upon directive by the King of Pergamon in 228 B.C. to celebrate his kingdom's victory over the Gauls. (See map.) The king may have ordered several statues of his enemy in defeat, his competitors who fought in the nude.
Wikipedia says the warriors shed their clothing to show their spirit, fortitude, and skill which Polybius (200 - 118 B.C.) wrote was "a terrifying spectacle, for they were all men of splendid physique and in the prime of life." (Dying Gaul)
Meanwhile, Dionysius (60 - 7 B.C.) of Halicarnassus thought their lack of protection was rather dumb and showed the Gauls' "barbarian boastfulness."
The sculpture reveals the deadly wound in the subject's chest and his forlorn frustration as he accepts his fate. He doesn't look so much like he is dying as he is resigned to reality, angry and injured as much mentally as physically and not pumped up to continue a battle any more. See how his skin glistens with sweat.
Dying Gaul was found between 1621 and 1623 in an excavated garden in Rome on property once owned by Julius Caesar.
After word got out about the sculpture, formerly called Dying Gladiator since that's what the "experts" initially thought he was, royalty like King Philip IV (1605-1665) of Spain and King Louis XIV (1638-1715) of France ordered life-sized replicas. Historians claim Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) had Dying Gaul (or a copy) on his wish list.
Three of the artists Dying Gaul inspired, according to a brochure available at the sculpture, include Diego Velazquez, Jacques-Louis David, Giovanni Paolo Panini.
What happened to the bronze the king ordered 2,000 years ago? Claudio Parisi Presicce, the director of the Musei Capitolini in Rome which owns Dying Gaul, told the Wall Street Journal it was likely melted down and used for weapons. This copy was created in the first or second century A.D.
At the unveiling of the sculpture in December at the National Gallery of Art, Ignazio R. Marino, the mayor of Rome called Italy's loan of the sculpture to the U.S. an "eloquent demonstration of the close friendship...and fruitful cooperation" between two of the world's most beautiful capitals and two of the world's most prestigious cultural institutions, the Musei Capitolini and the National Gallery of Art. The presentation and this gift to the American people is one of more than 300 events Italy has staged throughout the U.S. over the last year to celebrate The Dream of Rome and 2013-The Year of Italian Culture.
The American people are grateful to the Embassy of Italy, the president of Italy, the Musei Capitolini, and the National Gallery of Art for the opportunity to see the sculpture on its first trip away from home in almost 200 years.
What: Dying Gaul
When: Now through March 16, 2014, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday.
Where: The Grand Rotunda, the West Building, National Gallery of Art, between Third and Ninth streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.
Admission: No charge
Metro stations: Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, or L'Enfant Plaza
For more information: 202-737-4215