Monday, June 04, 2007

Gaul Killing Himself & The Dying Gaul - the Attalid Monument

Gaul Killing Himself & The Dying Gaul

The so-called "Gaul Group" or "Attalid Monument" was a war memorial, apparently consisting of a central statue showing this Gaul about to kill himself, after having just killed his wife to prevent her capture, surrounded by four dying Gauls. The first important point to understand here about the monument itself is that the Gauls were the enemy; here they are portrayed as heroic, noble, and worthy of our attention and sympathy. In this way the monument resembles the Iliad, where the "enemy," the Trojans, are portrayed as heroic and noble and all of that.

The monument is especially important also for its continuation of the effort, found throughout Hellenistic art, to expand the space under consideration. Lysippos began to redefine the sculptural space in the Apoxyomenos. A piece like the Dancing Faun can only be comprehended by walking around it. Here we have a piece - a collection of pieces, really - that can only be fully comprehended by walking through it. Hellenistic art had pioneered the groupings of elements, as spectacularly in the Laocoon; now we the group extended, into the street, as it were. Hellenistic art is especially vivid in its emotionality; here the dead and dying Gauls touch us with raw emotion.

The Dying Gaul - also called The Dying Gladiator - is especially well modeled. As with the Hanging Marsyas, the body itself expresses the pain and suffering - even the hair seems to hurt. It is the same theme as represented in the late Archaic and early Classic sculptures of the Dying Warriors. Here, though, the realism is significantly enhanced, contributing much to the pathos of the scene.

The Gaul Killing Himself is in the shape of a pyramid, though that ordinarily stable form is rendered unstable by a variety of elements, including the basic narrative being expressed. Regrettably, the woman's arm has been restored badly; apparently it should be parallel with her other arm. The 17th Century French painter Nicolas Poussin used the image for a group in the lower left corner of his Rape of the Sabine Women.