Sunday, March 31, 2013
Dying gladiator, dying Gaul
Looking back over some pictures the other day, I came across my photographs of the garden at Rousham in Oxfordshire and in particular the image of the statue of the Dying Gaul, sometimes known as the Dying Gladiator. This reminded me that, years ago, I'd seen a pub in Brigg, Lincolnshire, called The Dying Gladiator, and I began to wonder whether the building and its remarkable sign were still there. They are. The sign, sculpted by William Clark in 1863, shows a moustachioed Gaulish warrior in his last minutes.
The sign in Brigg is based on previous sculptures of the figure, which date back to a classical statue of a similar figure from about AD 230, now on display in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. This ancient marble statue shows a man who is collapsing on top of his shield, and is naked except for the torc around his neck, as some Gaulish and Celtic warriors were said to be when they went into battle, "trusting only in the protection that nature gives," as Diodorus Siculus says. The nakedness and torc mark out the statue in Rome as a warrior, but up to the middle of the 19th century, people thought he was a gladiator. Lord Byron saw him, and described him, "butcher'd to make a Roman holiday" in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.
The Roman statue was copied many times. Small copies were sold to travellers in the 18th and 19th centuries, those grand tourists who were on the lookout for artistic souvenirs to take back home. Bigwigs commissioned further copies for their gardens, like the one in the beautiful garden at Rousham that inspired these musings. Even Louis XIV had a copy. No doubt these owners of copies of the subject were remembering the strong carving of the sculpture in Rome; some were giving talented carver-copyists the chance to shine; all were appreciating the powerful emotions inherent in the subject – a man who faces death bravely, who "Consents to death, but conquers agony" as Lord Byron put it. Many would also admire the toughness of the Celt, the man from a small nation who stands up to the Roman war machine with nothing to protect him but his wits and his strength.
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Photograph by David Wright, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.
The photograph is from Wikimedia Commons and is dated 2008. I think the statue may have been cleaned and restored since then.
There is information about The Dying Gladiator pub, Brigg, here.