“Gladiatorial combat was a display of nerve and skill. The gladiator, worthless in terms of civic status, was paradoxically capable of heroism.” Harvard Professor Kathleen Coleman http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/gladiators_01.shtml
The slaying of gladiators was regarded as a normal form of entertainment in ancient Rome. They were slaves with masters who fed and trained them well and attended to them medically. There were among them prisoners, debtors, prostitutes and criminals condemned to death, but also free men who volunteered to take the oath “to be burned, to be bound, to be beaten and to be killed by the sword.” There were those who were skillful enough to live to retire as free men, but most died before the age of thirty. Some men became famous and had an extensive following, as do athletes, attaining the status of hero in their culture’s eyes. The victor’s wreath of laurel leaves was the special distinction of an exceptional gladiator.
Allen here depicts one of those gladiators, a handsome, virile, smart, strong fighter who has won the victor’s crown! He wears a garment tied at one shoulder and holds his head confidently on a muscular neck so developed that it is almost as broad as his skull. The square jaw and high cheekbones form strong structural angles at the sides while a cleft chin, shapely lips and high-bridged nose give detail to the line marking the center of the face. The stress and determination of the young man’s performance shows in the furrowed and scarred brow, but the eyes are quiet with an inner strength.
The head is smaller than life size facing forward and erect on the spine. The crown of the skull is slightly narrower in depth and width than the bones of the jaw and the neck is wide when seen from both side and front views. The ears lay flat against the sides of the head and the profile shows a clear diagonal line from the top of the forehead to the tip of the masculine nose. The prominent frontal eminences and superior temporal lines of the forehead’s skull bone clearly illustrate the sculptor’s knowledge of anatomy. The laurel leaves of the victor’s crown protrude forward and upward like wings between which the hair is combed forward to the brow. A suggestion of the leaves continue around the sides of the head ending in a flat knot tied at the occiput. The left shoulder is cut at the neck whereas the right shoulder is prominent, like another wing shape, with some detail to the knot of fabric. The strength of the center column of the portrait keeps the off-center shoulder in balance while the asymmetry adds interest and flair.
Very classical in style like the statues of antiquity, the Gladiator Victor is a fine example of the Beaux Arts training Allen received from Pratt and his time in the Paris Academies and museums.
Crown Symbol : A victor that has proved his preeminence by the performance of a great feat, and in doing so, won strong public recognition, is worthy of the crown. The crown sits upon the head, at the highest point of the body, and this is significant; it is a clearly visible statement of superiority that separates the victor from the multitude. This separation, subsequently, creates an expectation that the victor is worthy of esteem; and this, in turn, endows him with the obligations and demands of leadership.
Review for the Guild of Boston Artists by R. W. Coburn, May 1917
“The joy of jowls, of course hair, of a thick muscular neck, a low brow and an uncontrollable instinct to draw upon inherited reservoirs of rage and pugnacity is surely the motive underlying Mr. Allen’s ‘Gladiator Victor.’ This is the berserker type that makes war possible centuries after its logical excuse has gone. This is the breed whose unalterable instincts civilization must ultimately learn either to transmute into useful operations or to eliminate through eugenics. This is an Aryan counterpart of our Apache scout, Sergt. Chicken, who back from the slaughter of Villa’s bandits delivers with dancing eye his laconic report: ‘Him damn fine fight.’