‘Dying Gaul’ Is a World Masterpiece About Death

15-dying-gaul.w529.h352Jerry Saltz at New York Magazine:

You knew this sculpture before you saw it. The pose is almost as well known in the mind as that of another sculpture from the ancient world — also on hand, no less — of a boy removing a thorn from his foot. But there's a piercing difference. We engage with the boy with sweetness, this softness, youth, incipient-innocence-on-the-verge experience. Dying Gaulspeaks to us in a tenor of tremulous enmeshed cosmic pathos.

Dying Gaul was part of a large sculptural grouping of an epic monument to commemorate decisive Hellenistic victories over the invading Gauls from nearby Galatia, in what is modern-day Turkey. The work was made between 100 and 200 B.C.E. and is a Roman copy of a lost bronze Greek original made about a century before by the great Hellenistic sculptor Epigonos (yes, artists had names then, too). The lost (probably melted down) bronze original was unceremoniously taken from Turkey by the Emperor Nero to Rome where it was used to decorate his gigantic gold, jewel-encrusted Golden House. Copy or not, time and distance collapse when you stand before it — a mysterious abyss opens between us and the sculpture, and recognition rushes in. We are seeing layers of beauty, strength, inwardness, isolation, vulnerability, and the sensuous antecedents of Michelangelo’s beautiful David — all the way to the even-older wisdom of Homer.

more here.