The Romans left us a great legacy, which today helps us understand better their ancient civilisation. They recorded practically everything in the form of engravings, mosaics, reliefs and sculpture, the latter being a highly regarded art form in their culture. Among the many sculptures lying in museums in Rome, one of my favourites is the Dying Gaul in the Capitoline museums.
The statue, found in 1622 in the Horti Sallustiani on the Ludovisi estate near the via Veneto, is a Roman copy of an ancient greek sculpture made of bronze. The original statue formed part of a monument the king of Pergamon, Attalus I Soter, erected around 225 BC to celebrate his victory against the Celtic tribes who had newly arrived in Asia Minor. The memorable victory earned Attalus the name of Soter (the saviour) and the title of king. Attalus I was also a loyal ally of Rome who played a significant role during the Macedonian wars fought by the Romans at the same time as the Punic wars in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.
The statue, which represents a gallic warrior agonizing over his mortal wounds, has inspired many artists because of its strong emotional powers yet highly realistic features. Caravaggio’s St John the Baptist at the Corsini gallery, is depicted in exactly the same stance as the Dying Gaul. The Gaul, recognizable from his distinctive hair style and moustache, was equally admired by the many 19th century expert travellers doing the Grand Tour. It may seem obvious today to like such an overly famous work of art, however, one can still see it with fresh eyes and be moved by it.