Riace Bronzes

Riace Bronzes

The warriors or bronzes of Riace are two Greek sculptures in bronze dated to the fifth century BC (around 460 for the warrior A and around 430 for the warrior B) and kept in the National Museum of Reggio Calabria.

(around 460 for the warrior A and around 430 for the warrior B) and kept in the national museum of Reggio Calabria. Slightly larger than life (1.98 meters high for warrior A, 1.99 meters for warrior B), they were discovered in 1972 off the coast of Riace, in Calabria, probably on the site of a shipwreck in antiquity.

They are among the very few large Greek bronzes still preserved in their entirety, like the charioteer of Delphi and the god of Artemision.

Discovery of Riace Bronzes

Stefano Mariottini, a chemist from Rome, discovered the statues in August 1972 during diving sessions at the end of a vacation in Monasterace. He was about 200 meters from the coast of Riace, at a depth of six or eight meters, when he noticed the left arm of one of the statues emerging from the sand. At first he thought he had come across the remains of a corpse, but when he touched the arm, he realized that it was made of bronze.

He then began to clear the sand around the statue. Later, he noticed another bronze statue nearby and decided to call the police. A week later, on August 21, this second statue was pulled from the water, and two days later it was the turn of the first. No shipwreck that could have any link with these statues has been discovered nearby, but in the vicinity of this sedimentary coast, remains of constructions have been spotted.

Riace Bronzes Description and dating

The two warriors are naked men, standing and bearded. They are in a contrapposto posture, and show well its evolution: while the torso of warrior A is still vertical in spite of its support on a single leg, that of warrior B is curved, the line of the shoulders being opposed to that of the hips.

This difference allows us to affirm that the two sculptures are not contemporary: warrior A, which can be compared to the small Ephebe of David-Weill (c. 470 BC, Louvre Museum), can be dated to 460 BC, that is to say about twenty or thirty years before warrior B, which is closer to the works of Polyclitus (Diadumene, Doryphorus).

According to their melting techniques, we can see that both statues were made in ancient Greece, in Attica for bronze A and in Argolid for bronze B.

Technique of Riace Bronzes

The two warriors are witnesses of the evolution that took place in bronze techniques from the end of the century BC: they are made according to the technique of lost-wax casting on negative, a technique that allows to preserve the model and the mold, and to obtain a more regular thickness of bronze.

The warrior A

In Warrior A, there are welds at the neck, under the shoulders, at the wrists, at mid-foot and for the medial toes. The body itself was melted in a single stream.

The hair, which is extremely plastic and ample, is made up of strands melted separately (with lost wax on positive) and brought back by welding. It thus seems that the caster, who must also have been the sculptor, used an auxiliary model to take the imprint of the body without the hair, then shaped the strands and adjusted them to the main model before cutting them to cast them.

As in the case of the Artemisia god, the welds, at least at the wrists, shoulders and middle toe, were made in a bowl. To do this, the bronzemaker dug a half-cup at the edge of each part to be assembled, where he then poured bronze. This technique, which increases the surface of contact, also allows to have with the bowls a heat tank and thus, to better heat the two parts to be assembled.

The iron frame of the statue protrudes from the foot, and was used to fix it to its stone base. Lead was introduced into the cavity to hold it in place.

The treatment of the face of warrior A shows a search for polychromy and a great technical refinement. The lips are inlaid with an alloy rich in copper, therefore very red and left unpolished, while the teeth are covered with silver leaf.

The lips are themselves covered with the hairs of the moustache in bronze. It was therefore necessary to first model the beardless head in wax, remove the mouth, melt it and then reinsert it into the model, before placing the moustache hairs and the beard on top. Several examples of layers, found in Olympia, show that this practice of inlaying was relatively frequent.

The eyeballs of warrior A are made of ivory, hollowed out to insert the iris (no longer present), which itself probably had a cavity for the pupil.

Warrior B

Reconstruction attempts

The "Liebieghaus Polychrome Research Project" of Frankfurt communicated, in 2019, in the scientific journal Techne, the results of its research on the Riace bronzes, in two three-dimensional bronze copies on a scale of 1 and in their 3D images, virtual.

The restitution of the elements that have now disappeared is proposed by the researchers. Thus, the bronze Riace A had probably put a helmet called "Corinthian" on its skull only in a relaxed pose, thrown back. Moreover, because of the position of the left arm and the shape of the right hand, not only the shields (round shield for Riace A, pelta for Riace B), but also the weapons (Riace A: spear, Riace B: battle axe) could be restored according to a probable axis.

The faces have been able to find, in this simulation, the elements partially disappeared in the eyes. The lips, teeth and tips of the breasts have regained all of their colored, shiny metals.

For the recovery of the lost headgear of Riace B, the initial situation was much more complex. However, the material traces, the technical details - after a detailed examination - were of great importance. The experiment showed that the addition of a fox skin cap could explain all the technical features on the front, top and back of the statue of Riace B. Fox fur caps are the typical headgear of the Thracians living in northern Greece.

In Greek art, the members of this huge ethnic group are characterized by these alopekis, but also by short coats and embades (fur boots). From time to time, for example on the frieze of the Parthenon, Athenian citizens also appear dressed in Thracian costume.

The unnatural conical shape of the upper part of the skull would have been used to adjust the cap of the fox skin hood. This device could also imitate the softness of the metal cap. Some elements that still remain, the limit between "finished" part and part left unfinished, find a justification in this solution of the Thracian bonnet-cap which would fit perfectly here.

The most relevant clue is a bronze sheet welded to the neck. Judging by the unfinished aspect of its surface, it was not intended to be seen, and later it will have been partially torn off.

Riace B" must therefore be interpreted as a Thracian hero of Greek mythology because of his fox skin cap and his nudity. Since he was depicted as fighting a Greek hero (Riace A with a Greek helmet), he can only be the Thracian king Eumolpos, son of Poseidon and founder of the Eleusian Mysteries, who was defeated in the fight against the Athenian king Erechtheus.

All the other Thracian men of ancient mythology are excluded, because they are never represented in an open battle with a Greek hero. But Pausanias tells us that a group of sculptures representing Erechtheus and Eumolpos, just before their battle, had been placed on the Acropolis of Athens. Our research leads us to the convincing conclusion that the originals of this group were preserved in the two bronze warriors of Riace ".

Concerning the appearance of the skin, numerous traces of sulfides on other ancient bronzes have suggested the possibility of a patina containing this product, before they are coated several times with a fine solution of varnish based on asphalt, linseed oil and madder.

After which the bronze takes on a somewhat dark hue; a color of white man's skin exposed to the sun, tanned. The use of a patina would have seemed necessary in antiquity, because a bronze subjected to the weather oxidizes very quickly.

On the other hand, the bronzers of antiquity explored techniques to compete with those used by painters. Here, to take an example that survives today, the color of the skin is distinguished from that of the mustache of warrior A by a copper alloy richer in tin.

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