Reportret

Gallery of reconstructed portraits


Created: 2005
Published: 2005
Modified: 2012


The reconstructed portrait of Vercingetorix

Vercingetorix

The Romans had been fighting the Gauls — the continental Celts in present-day France — for several years. Most of Gaul was under Roman control. Vercingetorix (*72–†46 bce; appropriately, his name means ‘king of the warriors’) was very unhappy with the situation and the Romans would soon have to deal with this troublesome rebel. He assembled allies from all over Gaul and led a violent campaign to free it from the Romans. Vercingetorix did not succeed though. In a hillfort at Alesia he and his men were besieged and Vercingetorix saw no other way out but to surrender. Taken to Rome, Vercingetorix died a few years later in captivity. He was probably strangled during a public showing. In the last couple of centuries Vercingetorix was made a symbol of French nationalism.

How should we picture the appearance of Vercingetorix? His direct opponent Caesar wrote a full report on the war in Gaul, but he (wilfully?) mentions nothing about the nature or the appearance of Vercingetorix, though they did meet in person. We therefore must turn to other sources. In general, the Celts were known to wear coloured trousers and cloaks. The men often had half-long hair (limewashed and combed backwards) and drooping moustaches. In addition to this hairstyle, a marble statue shows the very characteristic torc (neck ring) that was common among the Celts. A limestone statue represents a Celtic warrior who's wearing a similar torc, with a cloak, trousers, a coat of mail (which is possibly a Celtic invention), and a belt. This man carries a long sword and a large, oval-shaped shield — weapons that are familiar from archaeological findings. Various types of ‘Celtic’ helmets were found as well, but these were seldom depicted in contemporary art. Coins that contain an image of the face of Vercingetorix are unreliable as sources. These images are primarily idealized, symbolic representations.

Which style was generally accepted at the time of Vercingetorix? Alas, the mainland Celts didn't leave us any coloured paintings — at least none that have been preserved. We do have little sculptures and a whole range of metal objects: mainly jewellery and weapons, decorated with abstract shapes. By way of exception, a bronze sword sheath contains very authentic, figurative depictions of warriors on foot and on horseback — still without colour though. Despite their rather naive nature, it's clear that these images were carefully composed, balanced, and decorated. They consist of thin, delicate lines, engraved in the metal. Heads and limbs were reproduced in side view, just slightly deformed. Depth and perspective are absent: the representations are completely ‘flat’.

The following details were included in the reconstructed portrait. The coat of mail, the shield, the torc, and the cloak were adopted from the limestone statue. The hairstyle (white due to the limewash), the trousers, and the pointed shoes were derived from the images on the sword sheath. The decorations were inspired by it. The coat of mail was reproduced as a pattern of little rhombi with a dot in them; not because the mesh really looked like that, but because this decorative pattern can also be found on the sword sheath. A drooping moustache, like the one visible on the marble statue, was added and the sword was based on the many contemporary examples that have been preserved. Since it's unclear which colours the Celts applied in their image culture, the portrait contains no other colours than shades of the metal-like basic colour.


Do you have a suggestion or remark concerning this reconstruction? All comments are much appreciated.


Sources

  • Gaius Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Roma 52–51 bce). Caesar describes his efforts to conquer Gaul in the years 58–52 bce. It's an idealized report and many facts were twisted or exaggerated to praise the author. He later became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Book VII deals with the revolt of Vercingetorix.
  • Roman marble statue, commonly known as ‘the dying Gaul’, Italia: Roma: Musei Capitolini: Palazzo Nuovo: Sala del Gladiatore, MC0747 (Roma 1st century bce). This marble statue is probably a Roman copy of a Greek — now lost — bronze original from the 3rd century bce that represented a Galatian (a Celt from Anatolia). The nakedness of this Celt is a Greek aesthetic ideal, not an indication of the actual appearance.
  • Gallo-Roman limestone statue representing a Gaulish warrior, France: Avignon: Musée Lapidaire (Vachères 1st century bce).
  • Bronze sword sheath, Österreich: Wien: Naturhistorisches Museum Wien: Prähistorische Abteilung (Österreich 5th–3rd century bce). The engraved sheath was excavated from grave no. 994 at Hallstatt.

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