Digital Learning

February 22 was Digital Learning Day and the NCMA participated by streaming a live session with multiple schools from our Egyptian galleries. Several people–including me–had a role to play in those 30 minutes and it went extremely well.  You can see our setup in this very cool picture! (No, our galleries are not circular and this post is a lame excuse to show you this great photo! Ha!)


Ludovisi Gaul

My ARCHAEO-Crush for February is one of the most famous marble sculptures at the Palazzo Altemps in Rome and it is related to the January ARCHAEO-Crush.


Type: artefact (sculpture)
Civilisation: Ancient Rome
Date: 2nd century C.E.

ARCHAEO-Crush: This statue, which represents a Gaul and his wife, is part of the sculptural that includes the Dying Gaul and a third statue at the Louvre. As mentioned in my ARCHAEO-Crush for January, these statues are Roman marble copies of earlier Greek bronzes (now lost). Here, the Gaul is not mortally wounded during a battle; he is depicted after a battle won by Attalus I. (We remember that during the 3rd century B.C. the king of Pergamon defeated Celtic people who had settled in Galatia (modern Turkey), a victory commemorated by the original bronze sculptures). Instead of being captured by the enemy, the Gaul choses to kill his wife and commit suicide–another name for this sculpture is Ludovisi Gaul Killing Himself and His Wife (also occasionally referred to as the ‘Galatian Suicide’). The man is depicted holding the figure of a dying woman in his left hand and, with his right, plunging a dagger under his his collar bone. His nudity (in no way hidden by his chlamys), his moustache and his bushy hair help identify the man as a Galatian, while the elaborately dressed woman can be identified as the wife of a Celtic chief.

This sculpture struck me because of its subject and the unusual position of the man’s body. Once we know the historical context of the original Greek bronzes and the later Roman marbles, the figures can be identified and the theme and symbolism understood.While the composition can be admired from multiple points of view, this appears to be a very awkward way of committing suicide.  The man’s weight is on his left leg and his body is twisted towards the right, with the right leg trailing behind. He holds a dagger in his right hand, but plunges the tip of the weapon on his left side, below the collar bone. The resulting movement of muscles is spectacularly depicted by the sculptor–this is an amazing rendering of musculature and anatomy.  However, is it even possible to pierce one’s heart while holding a dagger in one’s right hand, a collapsed woman in the left and looking behind one’s self?  Perhaps it is the Gaul’s last and defiant look at the enemy before the fatal moment, when he lets go of his wife and plunges the dagger in his heart with both hands?

Bucket list status: I saw this sculpture during my one and only visit to the Palazzo Altemps in 2014.

Additional information: If you are in Rome and you like ancient sculpture, take time to visit the Palazzo Altemps. You will find there one of the oldest private collections of ancient sculpture still extant today–that of the Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps. Today the Palazzo is part of the Museo Nazionale Romano . The palace, which dates to the Renaissance, is located just north of the Piazza Navona and it’s a hidden gem.

Conservator vs Conservationist

It’s a pet peeve of many friends of mine (and, by extension, one of mine as well).  Did you know that conservators and conservationists are not one and the same?  That even though they both conserve something, conservators and conservationists have very different jobs?

A conservator is a person who works to keep works of art safe, ensuring that precious artefacts and paintings are in stable condition in a museum or repairing those that have suffered some kind of damage.

A conservationist is a person who advocates for the protection  and acts for the preservation the environment and wildlife on our wonderful planet.


These two words are constantly confused, most often by the media, and for a museum professional (even if you’re not a conservator), it is frustrating when people don’t use the correct word. Now that you know the difference, dear readers, spread the word!

This post is dedicated to all my conservator friends.  I’ve got your back, guys!

Book Review – ‘Nefertiti’s Face: The Creation of an Icon’ by Joyce Tyldesley

My prolific colleague Campbell Price at Manchester Museum is at it again! Nice post on Joyce Tyldesley’s new book on Queen Nefertiti. Must add that to my ever growing list of books to read…

Egypt at the Manchester Museum

Joyce Tyldesley’s new book concerns Ancient Egypt’s most well-known poster-girl: Nefertiti, or – more accurately – a painted limestone and plaster bust of her now in the Neues Museum in Berlin. Tyldesley has already written an excellent biography of the lady herself, and uses this opportunity to discuss her most famous representation – and how it skews our entire impression of who she was. The book follows the successful format of the biography of a single object adopted by Laurence Berman, curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in his accessible study of the Late Period ‘Boston Green Head’. As a fellow curator, the idea of spending a whole book on a sole museum object is particularly appealing to me.


Now, I must confess personal bias here – Joyce is a friend and University of Manchester colleague, and we have discussed the content of the book extensively. Yet…

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The Dying Gaul

Let’s see if I can produce ARCHAEO-Crush posts on a monthly basis in 2018.  The ancient work of art I am presenting in January is a spectacular marble sculpture in the collections of the Musei Capitolini.


Type: artefact (sculpture)
Civilisation: Ancient Rome
Date: 1st or 2nd century C.E.

ARCHAEO-Crush: The statue of the Dying Gaul (or more precisely, the Dying Galatian) is an ancient marble masterpiece at the Musei Capitolini. Discovered in Rome, the statue was found in the gardens of the Villa Ludovisi (possibly during excavations for the foundations between 1621 and 1623), when the villa was built on the site of the landscaped gardens of the Roman historian Sallust, who acquired the land after the death of its previous owner, Julius Caesar.  When discovered, the man in the sculpture was identified as a wounded or dying gladiator because a bleeding wound can clearly be seen on his chest. The position of the body and the beautifully rendered expression on the face indicate that the man has collapsed in agony, clearly dying. However, other attributes do not entirely support its identification as a gladiator: on the base, we can see a sword, shield and trumpet (a horn). Actually, it is because of this trumpet that the German historian Johann Winckelmann suggested that the man be identified as a Greek herald and not a gladiator. A closer look at the sculpture reveals that the dying man has bushy hair, sports a moustache and although naked, wears a torque around his neck. While Greek warriors can be represented in ‘heroic nudity’, the torque is a distinctive piece of jewellery worn not by Greeks but by Celts and Gaulish warriors. Ancient literary sources–such as Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War  and others by historians Diodorus Siculus and Livy–record that Celts went into battle completely naked, wearing nothing but their weapons. Describing a Gaulish army, Polybius states that brave warriors are nude and wear only a torque.  So the dying man depicted is neither a gladiator, nor a Greek herald; he is a Galatian, a Gaul living in Asia Minor following a Celtic migration around 279 B.C. (Galatia is located in Anatolia, today’s Turkey.)
So what does this representation of a dying Gaul mean in terms of Roman statuary of the 1st or 2nd century AD? Well, the statue is a Roman marble copy of an earlier Greek bronze statue. This now lost Greek bronze dated to the 3rd century BC and celebrated the victory of the King of Pergamon over Celtic people in Galatia. It appears that this statue and other bronzes part of a commemorative sculptural group were brought to Rome, possibly by Nero, because they reminded the Romans of their own victories over the Celts and Gauls. However, the statue is more than just the triumph of civilisation over barbarianism (the fundamental idea presented by the sculpture), it also symbolises courage in defeat, self-possession and bravery when looking at death in the eye, and the nobility of a foreign people.

Bucket list status: It’s not until 2014 that I truly learned the importance of this sculpture. The first time I saw it a few years prior, I thought the sculpture represented Vercingetorix (erroneously but at least I was thinking of a Gaul!); however, I hadn’t paid much attention to the sculpture’s interpretation as well as its provenance (read on). It took centuries for the new identification of the sculpture to be fully accepted.

Additional information: The sculpture appears in the inventory of the Ludovisi Palazzo Grande in 1623 and Pope Clement XII later acquires it for the Capitoline collections. In 1797, under the Treaty of Tolentino, the sculpture is confiscated by Napoleon’s troops and exhibited at the Louvre until 1816, when it is reinstituted to Italy. A few years ago, the statue was on display at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. for an exhibition and you can find more information here.  The sculpture is renowned for its realistic rendering, especially of the emotion in the face of the fallen warrior, and it inspired numerous reproductions in various media since its discovery–many of them are called the Dying Gladiator. Its inventory number in the Capitoline collections is MC0747.

DNA confirms the Two Brothers’ relationship

The Two Brothers are indeed brothers (well, half brothers). Yet another great post by my colleague Campbell Price at the Manchester Museum.

Egypt at the Manchester Museum

Using ‘next generation’ DNA sequencing, scientists at the University of Manchester have confirmed a long-held supposition that the famous ‘Two Brothers’ of the Manchester Museum have a shared mother but different fathers – so are, in fact, half-brothers. This is the first in a series of blog posts presenting the DNA results, and discussing the interpretation and display of the Brothers in Manchester.

The ‘Two Brothers’ are among Manchester Museum’s most famous inhabitants. The complete contents of their joint burial forms one of the Museum’s key Egyptology exhibits, which have been on almost continuous display since they were first entered the Museum in 1908.

_D0V4739, 4740 (3) The Two Brothers’ inner coffins: Khnum-nakht (left) and Nakht-ankh (right), 2011

Central to public (and academic) interest have been the mummified bodies of the men themselves – Khnum-nakht and Nakht-ankh – who lived around the middle of the 12th Dynasty, c. 1900-1800 BC. Their intact…

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