Bronze Statues of Riace – Greek Masterpieces Withstanding Time

Bronzi di Riace, or the Riace bronzes, are two life-sized statues depicting naked, bearded Greek warriors. Experts date them to the era between 490 and 450 B.C.E. as they are made of bronze and flaunt a good amount of detail. These characteristics are common in the Severe or Early Classical style, which substituted the austere style and became the norm in the sixth century B.C.E. However, while most agree that the statues were created 30 years apart, some argue that they were produced together after 100 B.C.E. to pay homage to the Early Classical iconography embraced during the Hellenistic period.

The Discovery of the Statues

photography by Ken Mayer, Flickr Commons

Ken Mayer, Flickr Commons

The Riace warriors were discovered in August 1972 when Roman chemist Stefano Mariottini was fishing underwater at Monasterace. Diving 200 meters from Riace, he noticed the left arm of Statue A protruding from the sand. Suspecting that it was a dead body, he went closer only to discover that the arm was made of bronze. Pushing the sand away, he discovered Statue B and called the police. On August 21 and 22, the Archaeological Superintendence of Reggio Calabria and the police recovered the two statues. While the bronzes of Riace were in good shape, it took ten years for experts to study and restore them to their former glory. However, the visitors and residents of Florence and Rome never lost interest in them, queuing for hours to see the majestic bronzes which embodied both strength and beauty. What further made them interesting was the fact that they may be missing parts. The shape of the head indicates that they wore helmets whereas the position of the arms shows that they may have held spears and shields. However, the statues did manage to hold on to their calcite eyes, silver teeth, and copper lips and nipples.

A Closer Look at the Riace Bronzes

Closely studying Statue A, the 198-centimeter masterpiece depicts a younger warrior than Statue B. Experts believe that he wore a helmet crowned by a wreath and had weapons in hand due to his stance. What makes him a marvelous piece of art is the care given to creating curls and ringlets in his hair and beard. Analyzing the soil inside the statue, it seems that A was cast in Argos. Greek and Roman art historian Professor Moreno believes that the statue represents Tydeus, a hero of Aetolia, son of Areas and protégée of Athena. As for Statue B, it depicts an older warrior standing at 197-centimeters. Like the other bronze, it its bearded and crafted to show the contrapposto stance (nonsymmetrical, relaxed stance) despite having its feet closer together. The soil particles retrieved from this statue hints that it may depict the warrior Amphiaraus, who prophesized his death beneath the walls of Thebes. Based on these, Bronze A could have been crafted by Hageladas, an Argos sculptor who worked in the mid-fifth century B.C. at the sanctuary of Delphi. Comparing the statue with the other works featured in the temple of Zeus of Olympia, similarities are visible. As for Statue B, it may have been sculpted by Lemnos native Alcamenes. As for their purpose, archeologists believe that they were made by the Athenians to celebrate their victory against Starta in battle and to immortalize the glory of Thebes. To discover the beauty of the Riace bronzes firsthand, visit their new home in Calabria, which is 1,000 kilometers north to Milan.

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Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.

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