Judith Ann Moriarty
One Piece at a Time

Forever Young

By - Aug 26th, 2011 04:00 am
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Gaetano Trentanove’s “The Last of the Spartans” Photos by Joe the Lion via Flickr.

He’s young. He’s lithe. He’s dying on the battlefield at Thermopylae, along with 300 other Spartan warriors. It is the summer of 480 BC. The Persians won.

See there, the wound on his right side? It bleeds not red, but the whitest of white. Perhaps it’s the wound that took him down to the rough-hewn ground where he lays with his mighty sword and round shield. His right arm rests on the fallen shield; his right leg is extended and the heel of his foot nestles on a cluster of leaves, as if seeking succor in final moments.

Doom defines his marble features. It’s in his eyes, on his brow: the disbelief that the end is near, for how can this happen to a warrior who fought bravely under King Leonidas of Sparta?

Carved in 1892, he’s known as “The Last of the Spartans.” He’s Everyman who has known bitter defeat. He’s Everyman who fights on, now and forever, despite the odds.

His maker, Gaetano Trentanove, an Italian by birth, died in America in 1937. It’s comforting to muse that he died pleasantly, unlike the young hero he so expertly memorialized, the hero who is forever on the brink in the Frederick Layton Gallery at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Twelve Ionic columns surround the marble slab beneath him that elevates and celebrates the good fight, fought and lost.

Produced by Trentanove for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, the last Spartan lived and died (and lived again) in the movie 300, small comfort and of no consequence to the youth near death at MAM, he who breathes his last for us in the year 2011.

0 thoughts on “One Piece at a Time: Forever Young”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Judith Ann – Thanks for telling the story of this hottie! I have a few pictures that I took at home on my wall. I loved his face and had to have him. You rock.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Patti: I almost wrote about his hair, hair being problematical for sculptors who work with marble. But that’s another story.

  3. Anonymous says:

    So, this guy’s a “hottie.” Cool. Art history provides more than a balancing number of nude females, to be sure. I’ve long enjoyed this sculpture and that is one of the reasons. Because, if you look at it objectively, there’s really no reason for this guy to be nude except to be “hot,” is there? Who goes into battle in the nude? Those ancient Greek artists had some interesting priorities. For all their emphasis on figural naturalism, contextual realism goes out the window with the body armor.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Trentanove had a studio in Milwaukee. Did the Kosciuszko equestrian statue here.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Michael: my browser was on the bum, so I missed the Milwaukee connection. thanks for the insght..j

  6. Anonymous says:

    wow, my brain amazes. thinking back two decades I recall a piece we did on the Panorama Painters in Milwaukee, the group that showed their work at the exposition. The Last Spartan was also exhibited there. And yes, I think we referenced the sculptor, and Michael did you contribute to that feature in Art Muscle magazine?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Beautifully done, Judith Ann. Thanks. — Strini

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