Riace Bronzes: History, Discovery & Facts

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Riace Bronzes, A treasure at the bottom of the sea

The Riace Bronzes are two Greek bronzes depicting naked bearded warriors, cast about 460–450 BC discovered in the sea on August 16, 1972, near Riace Marina in the province of Reggio Calabria.

Related articles: The Valley of the Temples in Sicily

calabria

They are two of the few surviving full-size ancient Greek bronzes (which were usually melted down later), demonstrating the superb technical craftsmanship and exquisite artistic features attained at this time. There are several hypotheses about the statues’ origins and authors, but no evidence exists to definitively attribute the works to a specific sculptor.

The bronzes are now housed in the nearby city of Reggio Calabria‘s Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia. The bronzes are now on display inside a microclimate room on top of an anti-seismic Carrara marble platform. Along with the bronzes, the room contains two head sculptures from the 5th century BC: Testa del Filosofo and Testa di Basilea.

Warrior A

History

The two bronze sculptures are simply known as “Statue A,” which depicts a younger warrior, and “Statue B,” which depicts the more mature-looking of the two. The lost wax casting technique was used to create both sculptures.

There are twelve accredited hypotheses by scholars from all over the world regarding their date, location, creators, and which characters are represented by the Riace Bronzes, all of which differ from one another.

Warrior B

Although no evidence of a wreck has been discovered, it is widely assumed that the statues were being transported on a ship that sank, possibly in a storm. It’s not out of the question that the statues were on their way to a local destination, either at the time of their creation or later.

In ancient literature, there is no clear testimony identifying the athletes or heroes depicted by the bronzes. The two naked men appear to have been part of a votive group in a large sanctuary. According to Pausanias, the bronze sculptures may represent Tydeus and Amphiaraus, two of the warriors from the Seven against Thebes monumental group in the polis of Argos. They could, however, be Athenian warriors from Delphi, part of the Battle of Marathon monument, or Olympians.

Discovery

It is still unknown who discovered the statues. According to one theory, Stefano Mariottini, a chemist from Rome at the time, discovered the bronzes while snorkeling near the end of a vacation at Monasterace. Mariottini noticed the left arm of statue A emerging from the sand while diving 200 meters off the coast of Riace at a depth of six to eight meters. He initially thought he had discovered a dead human body, but when he touched the arm, he realized it was a bronze arm. Mariottini started shoving sand away from the rest of statue A. Later, he noticed the presence of another bronze nearby and decided to notify Reggio Calabria’s cultural department.

The discovery of the statues on August 16, 1972
The discovery of the statues on August 16, 1972

At the time of the sculptures, much of Calabria, particularly the coastal cities, was inhabited by Greek-speaking peoples as part of Magna Graecia (“Greater Greece”), as the “overseas” Greek territories became known. The most popular theory holds that the bronzes were created by two separate Greek artists around the 5th century BC, about 30 years apart. “Statue A” was most likely erected between 460 and 450 BC, and “Statue B” was between 430 and 420 BC. Some believe that “Statue A” was created by Myron, and that “Statue B” was created by a Phidias pupil named Alkamenes.

Style & Material

They are excellent examples of contrapposto – their weight is on the back legs, making them much more realistic than many other Archaic stances. Their musculature is visible but not incised, and it appears soft enough to be visible and realistic. The bronzes’ turned heads not only add movement, but also life to the figures. Their asymmetrical arm and leg layout add realism. Statue A’s eyes are made of calcite (which was originally thought to be ivory), and their teeth are made of silver. Their lips and nipples are made of copper.

Experimental Reconstruction of Riace Bronzes (source)

Source & Pictures: Wikipedia, Museo Archeologico Nazionale Reggio Calabria

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