The Riace bronzes (Italian Bronzi di Riace), also called the Riace Warriors, are two famous full-size Greek bronzes of naked bearded warriors, cast about 460–450 BC and found in the sea near Riace in 1972. Their first home was the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia in Reggio Calabria, Italy, but since 2009 the bronzes have been on display in the Palazzo Campanella, the seat of the Regional Council of Calabria (Consiglio Regionale della Calabria), where they were brought due to the restoration of the Magna Grecia museum.
Although the Riace bronzes were rediscovered in 1972, they did not emerge from conservation until 1981. Their public display in Florence and Rome was the cultural event of that year in Italy, providing the cover story for numerous magazines. Now considered one of the symbols of Calabria, the bronzes were commemorated by a pair of Italian postage stamps and have also been widely reproduced.
Stefano Mariottini, then a chemist from Rome, chanced upon the bronzes while snorkeling near the end of a vacation at Monasterace. While diving some 200 metres from the coast of Riace, at a depth of six to eight metres, Mariottini noticed the left arm of statue A emerging from the sand. At first he thought he had found a dead human body, but on touching the arm he realized it was a bronze arm. Mariottini began to push the sand away from the rest of statue A. Later, he noticed the presence of another bronze nearby and decided to call the police. One week later, on August 21, statue B was taken out of the water, and two days after that it was the turn of statue A. No associated wreck site has been identified, but in the immediate locality, which is a subsiding coast, architectural remains have also been found.
The bronzes and the story of their discovery were featured in the first episode of the 2005 BBC television documentary series How Art Made the World, which included an interview with Stefano Mariottini.
Speculation on the bronzes' date, origin, and creators
The Riace bronzes are major additions to the surviving examples of ancient Greek sculpture. They belong to a transitional period from archaic Greek sculpture to the early Classical style, disguising their idealized geometry and impossible anatomy under a distracting and alluring "realistic" surface. They are fine examples of contrapposto - their weight is on the back legs, making them much more realistic than with many other Archaic stances. Their musculature is clear, yet not incised, and looks soft enough to be visible and realistic. The bronzes' turned heads not only confer movement, but also add life to the figures. The asymmetrical layout of their arms and legs adds realism to them. Moreover, the statues' eyeballs are formed of bone and glass, while their teeth are silver and the lips and nipples of both are copper. At one time, they held spears and shields, but those have not been found. Additionally, Warrior B once wore a helmet pushed up over his head, and it is thought that Warrior A may have worn a wreath over his.
It is not impossible that the statues were on their way to a local destination. Further explorations undertaken in 2004 by a joint Italian-American team of archaeologists identified the foundations of an Ionic temple on this slowly subsiding coast. Undersea explorations by robotic vehicles along the submerged coastline from Locri to Soverato are providing a more detailed picture of this coast in Antiquity, although no further bronzes comparable to those of Riace have been found.
Attributions of such spectacular works of art to famous sculptors have followed traditional lines: "all the 'big' names of Classical times have been proposed in this connection", Brunilde Sismondo Ridgeway writes, noting that she finds it encouraging that at least a few scholars are willing to consider a non-Attic, even a 'colonial' workshop of origin, as contrasted with "the dominant Athenocentrism of previous years."
While it is certain that the bronzes are original works of the highest quality, it has also been argued that their torsos have been produced from a single model, which was then altered with direct modifications to the wax before casting, so that they may be seen as types.
There is no clear testimony in ancient literature to identify the athletes or heroes depicted by the bronzes. It seems that the two nudes originally formed part of a votive group in a large sanctuary. It is conjectured that the bronze sculptures may represent Tydeus and Amphiaraus respectively, two warriors from the Seven Against Thebes monumental group in the polis of Argos, as Pausanias noted. However, they may also be Athenian warriors from Delphi, part of the monument to the Battle of Marathon, or they may come from Olympia. Argos, Delphi and Olympia were three prominent Greek sites for dedicated sculpture of the highest quality, and all three were vulnerable to official plundering following the Roman occupation. Perhaps the bronzes were being transported to Rome as booty when a storm overtook their ship, although no evidence of a wreck has been found.
- Kleiner, p. 107,
- Mariottini went on to become a researcher for the Sovraintendenza Archeologica della Calabria, through a cultural association, KODROS.
- Mariottini interview in How Art Made the World (BBC television, 2005).
- Spivey 2005
- "The study of Greek Sculpture in the Twenty-First Century", read 15 November 2003 before the American Philosophical Society, published in their Proceedings 2005.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.20.5: "A little farther on is a sanctuary of the Seasons. On coming back from here you see statues of Polyneices, the son of Oedipus, and of all the chieftains who with him were killed in battle at the wall of Thebes. These men Aeschylus has reduced to the number of seven only, although there were more chiefs than this in the expedition, from Argos, from Messene, with some even from Arcadia. But the Argives have adopted the number seven from the drama of Aeschylus, and near to their statues are the statues of those who took Thebes: Aegialeus, son of Adrastus; Promachus, son of Parthenopaeus, son of Talaus; Polydorus, son of Hippomedon; Thersander; Alcmaeon and Amphilochus, the sons of Amphiaraus; Diomedes, and Sthenelus. Among their company were also Euryalus, son of Mecisteus, and Adrastus and Timeas, sons of Polyneices."
- Kleiner, Fred S., Gardner's Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective, Volume 1 (Cengage Learning, 2009, ISBN 9780495573609)
External Links / Further Reading
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Riace bronzes.|
- "I Bronzi di Riace - Le altre verità" del Prof. Giuseppe Braghò
- Nigel Spivey, "The beauty myth", The New Statesman, 2 May 2005
- Mariottini interview (Italian)
- Bruno Gemelli, "Vissi d'arte, vissi di code" (Italian)
- "Sotto il mare caccia segreta ai “nuovi” bronzi di Riace" 14 September 2004
- Lombardi, Satriani & Paoletti (eds.) Gli Eroi Venuti Dal Mare Heroes from the Sea: The Photographic Record of the Riace Bronzes. Gangemi Editore.
- The Riace Warriors are extensively discussed and illustrated in Programme One ("More Human Than Human...") of the five-part series How Art Made The World, written and narrated by Dr Nigel Spivey, who offers, in the programme, the opinion that they are the "best statues ever made." How Art Made The World is also available as a book (Basic Books, 2006 ISBN 0-465-08182-7, ISBN 978-0-465-08182-0).
- Pedley, John Griffiths, "Greek Art and Archeology" (Fourth ed. by Pearson- Prentice Hall, 2007), pp. 234–237.