‘The Dying Gaul: An Ancient Roman Masterpiece from the Capitoline Museum, Rome’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington


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The National Gallery of Art, Roma Capitale, and the Embassy of Italy in Washington, DC, present one of the most famous works from antiquity, the Dying Gaul, an ancient Roman sculpture created during the first or second century AD, traveling outside of Italy for the first time in more than two centuries. On view from December 12, 2013, through March 16, 2014, The Dying Gaul: An Ancient Roman Masterpiece from the Capitoline Museum, Rome celebrates the marble masterwork and the cultural connections between Italy and the United States.

'The Dying Gaul: An Ancient Roman Masterpiece from the Capitoline Museum, Rome' at the National Gallery of Art, Washington
Dying Gaul, Roman, 1st or 2nd century AD [Credit: Sovrintendenza Capitolina/
Musei Capitolini, Rome, Italy]

The Dying Gaul portrays a Gallic warrior in his final moments, his face contorted in pain as he falls from a fatal wound to the chest.

“We are delighted to share this illustrious work with visitors to the Gallery. A universally acknowledged masterpiece, the Dying Gaul is a deeply moving tribute to the human spirit,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “An image of a conquered enemy, the sculpture represents courage in defeat, composure in the face of death and dignity.”

“Ancient Rome and Roman art are an integral part of Italian history and culture,” stated the Ambassador of Italy to the United States, Claudio Bisogniero. “But they have also been a source of inspiration for America and its art and architecture. The Galata Morente exhibit in Washington renews the unique ties and friendship between our two countries, and our 2013—Year of Italian Culture in the United States is strengthening them even further.”

“I am glad to introduce you to a priceless and spectacular masterpiece that is part of the cultural heritage of ancient Rome,” said Ignazio R. Marino, Mayor of Rome. “This exhibition is a new milestone in the Dream of Rome program, which was inaugurated precisely here at the National Gallery of Art and is today one of the main events of 2013—Year of Italian Culture in the United States. It is an eloquent demonstration of the close friendship between the sister cities of Rome and Washington and of the fruitful cooperation between two prestigious cultural institutions, the Musei Capitolini and the National Gallery of Art.”

“We are very pleased to bring to Washington a stunning masterpiece that has not left Italian soil since its return to Rome from Paris in 1816,” said Claudio Parisi Presicce, Director of Capitoline Museums. “In 1797, Napoleonic forces had taken the sculpture to France with the intention of keeping it there. Its journey across the Atlantic today is further proof of the strong and fruitful collaboration between our countries.”

Cooperation between Rome and the National Gallery of Art continues to move forward with the Gems of Impressionism: Paintings from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, an exhibition on public view at the Museum of the Ara Pacis in Rome from October 22, 2013, through February 23, 2014.

Exhibition Organization

The exhibition is organized by Roma Capitale, Sovrintendenza Capitolina – Musei Capitolini, and the National Gallery of Art, together with the Embassy of Italy in Washington. It is part of a project initiated in 2011, The Dream of Rome, intended to promote the Eternal City in the United States by sharing treasures of its artistic heritage held in the collections of the Musei Capitolini. Between 2011 and 2013 a number of matchless works of art have crossed the Atlantic to be showcased in sole exhibitions at the most prestigious museums and galleries in the United States.

This event falls under 2013—The Year of Italian Culture in the United States, an initiative held under the auspices of the President of the Italian Republic and organized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Italy in Washington, DC, which has made possible over 300 cultural events in more than 60 US cities with support from corporate sponsors Eni and Intesa San Paolo and more than 120 US institutions and organizations.

History of the Dying Gaul

The Dying Gaul was found in Rome in the gardens of the Villa Ludovisi with another ancient marble sculpture, the Gaul Committing Suicide with his Wife. The two were probably unearthed during excavations for the villa’s foundation between 1621 and 1623. The sculptures are Roman copies of Greek bronze originals created in the third century BC to commemorate the victory of the king of Pergamon over the Gauls.

The sculptures were not immediately recognized as depictions of Gallic warriors. The earliest record of the Dying Gaul in 1623 describes it as a dying gladiator. Years later, the presence of a trumpet on the base led the German art historian and archaeologist Johann Winckelmann (1717–1768) to suggest that the subject was instead a Greek herald. At the turn of the 18th century scholars began to recognize that the figure depicts a Gallic warrior.

The fame of The Dying Gaul spread soon after its discovery partly on account of an engraving by the French artist François Perrier published in 1638. Full-size copies were commissioned by King Philip IV of Spain (reigned 1621–1665) and Louis XIV of France (reigned 1661–1715). Bronze statuettes produced by the Italian sculptor Giovanni Francesco Susini in the 1630’s made the work available to a larger audience.

In 1771, Thomas Jefferson, who knew Perrier’s engraving, included the sculpture on a list of antiquities he hoped to acquire, presumably in reproduction, for a never-realized art gallery at Monticello. The Dying Gaul was endlessly copied by art students and inspired works by Diego Velázquez, Jacques-Louis David, Giovanni Paolo Panini, and other artists. 

Source: National Gallery of Art [December 12, 2013]



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