Sunday, March 31, 2013

Brigg, Lincolnshire

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.


The Glanforder said...

The Dying Gladiator in Brigg is the only such-named pub in the world. The name, and the sculpture, were, as you said, the work of William Clark who was also the first landlord in the mid-1800s.

However, a local history book says that the statue was made about 1850, not 1863. It also suggests that William Clark had traveled to Rome and seen the statue for himself.

William Clark was a sculptor in his own right and other pieces by him existed at one time or another. This includes a miniature version of the Dying Gladiator which should be still in the hands of his family. It would seem from photos of that miniature, as well as older photos of the pub, that the current head is a replacement. The head was once much more downturned, as it appears in the original.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Glamforder: Thank you. That's very interesting. I can't find anything about William Clark in the DNB - it would be interesting to see other work by him.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Glanforder - sorry about the 'm' there!

The Glanforder said...

The source suggests that much of William Clark's work was local and is long since lost. The main exceptions being the bigger and smaller versions of The Dying Gladiator.

However, another statue that sat on Stone Boy House in Hull is said to have survived even though the building has not. The last sighting of the Stone Boy was in the hands of Hull museums who sited it in the garden of Wilberforce House on Hull High Street.

My source is, however, from 1991. I do not know what has happened to it since.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you. There's a reference on the web to Clark sculpting the lions that surround the statue of Queen Victoria in Hull's Pearson Park, another Hull connection.

tanya said...

I nominated your blog for an award

Philip Wilkinson said...

Tanya: Thank you. That's very kind.