The Mystery Over the Ancient Greek Masterpieces Recovered Off Italy

Greek Masterpieces
Credit: Museo archeologico della Magna Grecia di Reggio Calabria

The mystery over two magnificent ancient Greek statues remains almost half a century since the day they were recovered off the coast of the Italian region of Calabria in August 1972.

To this day, archaeologists and other scientists have been unable to identify with certainty who the bronze statues depict, when they were created — and how they ended up in Calabria.

Discovered by Stefano Mariottini in the town of Riace, the two statues were transported to the National Museum of Reggio Calabria, where they underwent an initial restoration that eliminated the layers of concretized sand coating them.

The moment one of the statues is recovered from the sea in 1972.

Then new restorations followed in Florence and again in Reggio.

Mystery continues

However, it still has not been established with absolute certainty if the pair of statues was, from the beginning, a single group, or if their juxtaposition had occurred during transport over the sea.

Their exact identification is also quite uncertain and debated: were they athletes, heroes, such as Agamemnon and Ajax, Mirone and Alcamene, Achilles and Patroclus, Tydeus and Amphiaraus, or deities?

Scientists are quite certain that the statues were created either in Attica or Argolis, in the Peloponnese.

They have almost the same height, around two meters, and they are both nudes – an emblem of divine or heroic status – and their stance is the same (the right leg is straight, the left is bent).

Originally they were accompanied by arms as well: helmets, coats of arms (supported by the bent left arm) and a lance (held by the lowered right hand).

Head of statue A. Credit: Effems/ Museo archeologico della Magna Grecia di Reggio Calabria.

Anatomical details

Anatomical details are represented with extreme precision — the veins and arteries are visible — and the powerful musculature radiates strength and the perfection of the human form.

The lips, eyelashes, and nipples of the statues are made of copper, while the teeth are made of silver paper. Both are produced using the “lost wax” casting technique.

“Bronze A” has hair that is bound by a band, and a thick and abundant beard, with their locks individually modeled.

“Bronze B” has a smoother head, sloping upward to better accommodate the Corinthian helmet, which is raised above his head to reveal the face.

While dating for the Riace Bronzes is controversial, they certainly represent two masterpieces of the bronzes from the fifth century BC.