The modern history of the two Bronzes begins on August 16, 1972, when, following an event with implications not yet fully clarified, at the locality of Porto Forticchio di Riace Marina, were found two bronze statues, apparently without any contemporary findings in the vicinity. Their recovery was carried out with an embarrassing lightness and by inappropriate means, to the point that a large piece of late antique ceramics was “forgotten” on the beach, placed between the right forearm and the chest of Bronze A to prevent the arm itself from being damaged during transport.
After the recovery, the statues were sent to an initial restoration, which was carried out between 1975 and 1980 in Florence. Two were the objectives of the intervention: cleaning and preservation of the external surfaces; attempt to empty the earth of fusion placed inside the statues. The removal of the melting earth was carried out in the restoration laboratory located in the Museum of Reggio in 1992-1995, and finally completed in the last restoration between 2010 and 2013, carried out at the headquarters of the Regional Council of Calabria, Palazzo Campanella.
The two statues, called “A” and “B”, and renamed in Reggio as “the young” and “the old”, are respectively 1.98 and 1.97 m high, and their weight, originally 400 kg, has now decreased to about 160 kg, by virtue of the removal of melting earth.
The site of the discovery, located in a port that had never been studied scientifically, but which seems to have been active since the Greek era, is highly significant. Its function as a port is made certain by the presence of the Tower of Casamona, of the Angevin era, although erroneously dated to the sixteenth century, whose function was to protect the landing and act as a place of collection of taxes. The discovery of the two statues near the port confirms the theories that relate the presence in Riace of the two Bronzes with their transport to or from Rome. Other details, such as the presence of ceramics to protect the integrity of Statue A, seem to attest that the two works were on a journey to be exhibited in another place.
On the two statues, although still the subject of speculation, scientific and otherwise, we can affirm some firm points:
Combinations and overlapping of the two Riace statues
- 1) The two statues are made of bronze, with a very thin thickness, except for some details in silver, calcite and copper. The teeth of Statue A are in silver. The nipples, lips and eyelashes of both statues were made of copper, as were the traces of a cap on the head of Bronze B. In white calcite is the sclera of the eyes, whose irises were in glass paste, while the tear caruncula is a pink stone.
- 2) The Riace Bronzes are original works from the middle of the 5th century B.C., with such evident similarities between them as to make their conception and realisation by the same Master safe.
- 3) Their style excludes the Attic workmanship, but refers to Doric styles, typical of the Peloponnese and the Greek West.
- 4) With regard to the chronological differences noted by many scholars, one cannot help but recognize that, with the exception of the abdominal area and the rendering of the face, the rest of the body of the two statues is surprisingly similar, with details that make the realization by the same artist’s hand certain. This observation leads us to consider the two statues contemporary.
- 5) The two statues have been visible for many years. In Roman times Bronze B was damaged: the breakage of the right arm was determined, of which, a unique fact to our knowledge, a second casting was made after having made a careful cast.
- 6) The two statues were certainly made in Argos, in the Peloponnese, as demonstrated by the examination of the fusion lands carried out by the Central Institute of Restoration in Rome.
- 7) Of the two statues, which have been exhibited for a long time, we do not have marble copies, except one coming from Rome, now at the Museum of Brussels, in pentelic, acephalous and mutilated marble of all the arts. The compositional rhythm seems to be that of the statue of Riace, but the lack of all the limbs and the head does not seem to us to have all the signs of absolute security.
- 8) The two statues represent two oplites, or rather an opiate (Bronze A) and a warrior king (Bronze B).
- 9) The two Riace Bronzes were executed to be seen together, being similar, even if different. From this point of view, it seems unlikely that an artist, in having to make a group of some statues, would make them all similar, without playing with the different attitudes of the characters depicted.
- 10) To this certainty, it seems to us that the hypothesis that, since it is a group of statues placed in Argos, as evidenced by the lands of fusion, it has to do with the myth of the Seven in Thebes, narrated by many poets and ancient tragedians, which stands as the silver “national myth”, while elsewhere the seven leaders never received a public cult as heroes, is a corollary.