AN ancient Roman sculpture portraying a warrior just before his death is visiting the US capital Washington DC on its first trip outside of Italy in more than 200 years.
"The Dying Gaul," a marble statue that was unearthed in Rome in the 1620s, is being loaned to the National Gallery of Art until March next year.
Believed by early historians and writers to be a gladiator, the statue had been a popular tourist attraction for centuries.
When Mark Twain visited it in 1867 he wrote: "We saw the Dying Gladiator at the Capitol, and I think that even we appreciated that wonder of art."
And Romantic poet Lord Byron included the statue in his 1818 work From Canto IV of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage ... "I see before me the Gladiator lie: / He leans upon his hand -- his manly brow / Consents to death, but conquers agony".
The statue, which was renamed the Dying Gaul by 18th Century scholars, is said to have been based on a 3rd Century BC bronze sculpted to mark a victory over the Gauls.
It is lauded for the expressions on the statue's face, as the Gaul is seen contorted with pain as he dies from a chest wound.
"A universally acknowledged masterpiece, the Dying Gaul is a deeply moving tribute to the human spirit," said Earl A. Powell III, director of the gallery. "An image of a conquered enemy, the sculpture represents courage in defeat, composure in the face of death and dignity."
Its appearance at the Washington gallery - the first time it has left Italy in more than 200 years - is part of the Dream of Rome program, in which 'the Eternal Masterpieces' are exhibited in the U.S.
"We are very pleased to bring to Washington a stunning masterpiece that has not left Italian soil since its return to Rome from Paris in 1816," said Claudio Parisi Presicce, director of Capitoline Museums, where the statue is usually displayed.
"In 1797, Napoleonic forces had taken the sculpture to France with the intention of keeping it there," he added. "Its journey across the Atlantic today is further proof of the strong and fruitful collaboration between our countries."
The statue, believed to have been created in the 2nd Century AD, was found in the gardens of Villa Ludovisi.