"Dying Gaul, (detail)" Roman, 1st or 2nd century AD, marble, Sovrintendenza Capitolina— Musei Capitolini, Rome, Italy. Photo (c) 2013 National Gallery of Art, Washington. Photo by Matthew Kelly-Montresor
All I know about sculpture is that it is one of those things in life that I will never be able to do even if I studied and practiced for years. How an artist can take a block of something and chip away at it until it becomes lifelike is amazing. Sometimes sculpture can look more accurate than a painting or drawing. This is especially true of The Dying Gaul, a first or second century marble sculpture on display at The National Gallery of Art.
What struck me more than anything was the intricate detail of the human form. The statue is muscular. One can see each individual muscle in his legs, arms, chest and back. But the sculptor did not just accentuate the muscles in a generic way, he took the specific positioning of the Gaul into account then accurately depicted what the muscles would be doing whether flexion or tension. Even more amazing, the statue is vascular. Within those individual muscles are throbbing veins, giving the impression that the piece of marble in front of you is still alive, still struggling to hold himself up and exerting all his force to do so. Even ancillary parts of the sculpture are depicted with great accuracy. His necklace looks so real that it seems it was put on him after he was created, not formed or sculpted from the same marble slab as it really is. His injury actually looks like it has blood actively flowing from it.
The Dying Gaul hasn’t left Italy in about 200 years but will only be on display through March 16th. If you have the chance in the next few weeks please check it out, it’s worth the trip.