The Riace Bronzes

The Riace Bronzes

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Scrotal asymmetry, varicocoele and the Riace Bronzes

In 1972, a pair of remarkably attractive Greek statues, later named Riace Bronzes, were found along the Mediterranean coast in the province of Reggio Calabria, Italy. We analyse the Riace Bronzes in the context of previous research on scrotal asymmetry in Greek statues. By examining their testis, one can define a more exact time of their dating by placing them beside previous observations of scrotal asymmetry, and possibly by taking a pathological condition, varicocoele, as an influencing factor in determining the appearance of the testis. In statue A of the Riace Bronzes, the left testicle is remarkably lower compared with the right one it also appears as it looks when under physical examination varicocoele is suspected. Being located on the left testicle (as in 90% of cases) and by sight, we feel sufficiently confident to affirm that varicocoele might be diagnosed.

© 2012 The Authors. International Journal of Andrology © 2012 European Academy of Andrology.

Travels in Calabria: My top picks

History figures large in my travels, so you won’t be surprised that my top tourist picks are mostly historical–and pretty famous!

#1: The Riace Bronzes: Two 2,500 year old classical Greek statues, found by a scuba diver off the coast near Riace in 1972, and now housed in the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia in Reggo Calabria. The full collection on the Magna Grecia occupies two floors of the museum.

#2: The Roman bridge at Scigliano: Part of the ancient Via Popilia, the Roman road from Capua to Reggio Calabria, during the Punic Wars Hannibal is said to have crossed this bridge with his armies. Not sure if that included the elephants, which Hannibal brought up through Iberia and across the Alps. The bridge is a wonderful Roman era structure. Bed and Breakfast Calabria in Scigliano is a great place to stay nearby, and I found this photo on their website.

#3: The Cattolica di Stilo: Built in the 9th century, this church is considered one of the most important Byzantine structures, and is a national monument. I love to visit churches. Along with the frescoes and Christian interior, there are Arabic inscriptions in the church–the thought of it sends my mind spinning into all kinds of historical speculations!

#4: Le Castella: I couldn’t go to Italy without visiting a castle, and the history of this one is fascinating. And the Ionian beaches couldn’t be closer! I found this interior cutaway describing life in the castle–in Italian, but it gives some good additional detail.

#5: Down time at some hot springs! There are several thermal bath options, and after visiting one in Tuscany a few years ago, I am eager to try one in Calabria. This or this should do–and then a couple of days at the beach in Tropea!

Bronze Casting and the Lost-Wax Method

Last class was really amazing! It was very educational and exciting to see how bronze is melted and poured. While we couldn’t see the lost-wax casting method, it was helpful that examples of objects made by the lost-wax method were laid out for us to examine. Some of the examples even had the bronze channels still attached, like the bushel of bronze pinecones, to illustrate how the bronze would be poured into the open, hallow mold that the melted wax would have left behind.

Personally, I was surprised that the space could fit the whole case. However, while I was able to see for the majority of the demonstration, others who were behind me complained that they couldn’t see. It would have been helpful if before the pour we would have been directed where to stand and told the steps taken to poor liquid bronze so that those in back, near the wall, would have known that their view would have been obstructed by the pourers.

When I said at the beginning that this experience was very educational, I meant it. During my past art history classes, I was taught about the lost-wax method through a difficult to understand drawn illustration. Due to actually being taught about the lost-wax method while watching bronze being melted and poured, I personally could understand the process way better than before. For example, I never really understood the relationship between the melted bronze and the channels within the mold. After learning that in order to pour and shape the bronze successfully the bronze had to be poured from the bottom to the top, hence the channels forcing the bronze to the bottom first, I could finally understand what my old textbook illustration was trying to say. The channels allowed the melted bronze to travel to the bottom of the mold and made sure that the bronze would not explode due to air bubbles or pressure. Below is a nice video I found that illustrates the lost-wax method.

After more research I found out that the lost-wax method can be done in three different ways: solid lost-wax casting, hollow lost-wax casting by the direct process, and hollow lost-wax casting by the indirect process (Hemingway). The indirect method was used for the majority of large-scale ancient Greek and Roman bronze statues because the original master mold was not lost in the casting process. Therefore, it was possible to recast sections, to make series of the same statue, and to piece cast large-scale statuary (Hemingway).

Overall, it makes sense to why the indirect would be the most preferable method because copies and artistic workshops were everywhere in the ancient Mediterranean. Also, as noted from class and other scholarly articles, large scale bronze sculptures like the Riace Bronzes “would be too great a waste of metal in casting them solid, and in cooling the subsequent shrinkage of the large amount of metal before it solidified would cause a flawed casting” (Nobel 368). When it came to large bronze statues sections would have been made separately and then welded together at the end to create a full statue. Below is a clip that shows the idea of casting separate parts of the sculpture.

Overall, it really is mind blowing how the ancient Greeks could actually do this. I mean, it was already amazing to watch bronze being poured last class, but that was with the use of modern technology. Just imagine what the ancients had to do without gas or mechanized cranes. It makes you wonder how long this process actually took in ancient times just to create one statue or how long it took to create the Riace Bronzes.

Hadrian / Bronze Casting Using The Lost-Wax Technique. Dir. Renana Aldor and Kobi Vogman. Vimeo, 21 Mar. 2016. Web.

Hemingway, Colette, and Seán Hemingway. “The Technique of Bronze Statuary in Ancient Greece.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2003)

Lost Wax Bronze Casting. Dir. Lequireartgallery. Lost Wax Bronze Casting. YouTube, 2 Aug. 2010. Web.

The Lampedusa period

‘The boat was sinking. We bailed out using mugs and glasses. I didn’t know if I’d survive. Anyway, I fainted. I know that for sure. And woke up in a hospital bed. There were white people everywhere in the room. That’s how I knew this was Italy. I have now been here for two years and four days’.

Robbie arrived in Italy on 19 July in 2014. In the history of present-day migration to Europe, that date falls within “the Lampedusa period” when, for large numbers of migrants, the route to Europe went via Libya and ended on Lampedusa, the southernmost Italian island.

On 3 October 2013, a boat sank a few kilometres from the island: 366 people died and 155 were saved. The event alerted Europe and forced its leaders to respond. ‘After Lampedusa, we cannot continue as we were’, was one official reaction, this time from Cecilia Malmström, then the EU Commissioner for Refugees. Major decisions were taken to channel more money to Frontex, EU’s border security agency (European Border and Coast Guard Agency) and assist Italy with funding for reception facilities. The task forces patrolling the Mediterranean were improved and also reinforced by the Italian air and naval operation Mare Nostrum (followed in 2014-16 by Frontex’s Operation Triton). Lives were saved, Robbie’s life among many others. Even so, it became clear as early as autumn 2013 that the EU seemed incapable of coordinating anything more sustained than interventions in acute situations. Malmström’s most important recommendation for the longer term was for the European nations to agree on quotas for refugees, introducing “humanitarian visas” and establishing a timetable for legal travel to Europe for migrants. Since then, much has happened.

During the summer of 2014, those who set out on the dangerous sea crossing from Libya could at least hope to be rescued by patrol boats, should their craft start to sink. On the island, the reception camps had been upgraded and the charities were in place to provide help.

A year later, everything had changed again. The new situation radically affected Robbie’s chances and those of many who were with him. The “Lampedusa migrants” carried on risking the deadly transit at about the same rate as before but the world’s attention now focused on the eastern Mediterranean. The shift was due to the death of Alan Kurdi, a Kurdish child from Kobane in Syria, who drowned on 2 September 2015. His mother Rehan and brother Ghalib shared his fate but his father Abdullah survived. The weeks following the publication of the photographs of Alan’s lifeless body were extraordinary. The words on everyone’s lips were migration, flight and solidarity. Now, the death toll on the Mediterranean had been given a face. Idealistic support missions for newly arrived refugees were organized all over the continent – until, a few months later, the whole thing came to an end. Europe had decided it needed “breathing space”, a process that had already begun with Hungary closing its borders on the 15 September. After agreement between the EU and Turkey had been reached on 18 March 2016, the Balkan route via Turkey and Greece and through the northern Balkan countries was also closed.

Europe’s “breathing space” has had little effect on Italy. As with anywhere along the Mediterranean, concrete reality matters rather more than the abstract principles of European migration policies. During 2016, migration into Italy was higher than in the previous year: by the end of December 2016, a total of 178,764 persons had arrived. The new arrivals came on top of the 158,000 refugees already installed in various temporary facilities, camps and lodgings. Many want to move on but can’t get out from where they have been placed. The system for distributing refugees across the EU nations has run aground. So far, only 1,158 people have been helped to leave Italy. France and Switzerland have closed their borders and, as a direct result, the border towns Ventimiglia near Genoa and San Giovanni on the shore of Lake Como are crowded with refugees who have been stopped on their way northwards. The situation in Italy differs from other countries in Europe in that most of the migrants come from West Africa, Eritrea and Sudan rather than from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Their chances of being allowed to stay in an increasingly isolationist Europe are vanishingly small. Those who are already in Italy, for instance in Riace, exist in a limbo: they have a temporary residential permit, a roof over their heads and a small daily pay-out but hardly any hope of better days to come.

Robbie, Emmanuel and the others receive half their benefits in cash (around 150 euros per month) and the rest in local vouchers – a kind of cheque that is valid only within the municipality. ‘We call the vouchers “bonuses” or Mandela bills. They have the face of Nelson Mandela on one side. They are good in some shops, like Conad the grocers for instance and the place next door to the IT shop which will sell you bits of grilled chicken. I bought my mobile phone with the bonus bills. But if I want to charge my SIM-card I have to go to the tobacconist’s. And they take only euros there. I phone home two or three times a week, that costs at least 10 euros every time. Sometimes, I have to choose between calling my people and buying chicken.’

Image: Olav Fumarola Unsgaard

The “Mandela currency” is one way of injecting money into the community and favouring the local shopkeepers. During my days in Riace, I encounter two very different versions of how the system works: while the shopkeepers seem positive about it, the migrants are consistently negative. Their complaint is mainly the exchange rate with euros, which they claim is fraudulent and often means that one Mandela is worth 50 cents rather than one euro. The town hall officials insist that they know of no such value manipulation.

Flawless Love

Sim Chang, a Taiwanese artist interested in photography and human disconnect, released a series of works in 2010-2014 entitled “Flawless Love.”

Chang’s work utilizes Japanese anime culture, juxtaposed by tradition and modern technology.

iPads replace self and turn into a faux reality. Chang’s work questions our perception of the world.

How do we express our identity as an individual? As a culture?

At what point do we consider something seductive to be grotesque?

What does it mean to feel safe? Fear of confrontation, imagination derived from the avoidance of problems.

The Screen Generation interprets life from second-hand, online experience. Limited by convenience.

Chang writes: “Falling in love with their own imaginations may be a much more beautiful truth than reality.”

Spectacle Entry by Elizabeth von Kaenel.
Sim Chang’s work can be seen here and here and here.

Piombino Apollo and Pompeii Apollo

  • 10 See Mattusch, 1996, 139-140. More recently Power and Pathos 2015, 288-293, especially Sophie Descam (. )
  • 11 See Pappalardo, 2015, 329-330, 338.
  • 12 The differences in measurements range from 1 mm to 3.5 cm, with the Pompeii Apollo being consistent (. )

16 Scholars once thought that the bronze statue from Piombino was Archaic or shortly post-Archaic, but they could not agree (fig. 7). When they looked at the lead tablets inside, they read that it was made by two Rhodians (either in Rhodes or in Italy) between the late 2nd century and the early 1st century B.C. New investigations of the statue have since been undertaken and careful study of the lead tablets has narrowed down a date for the Piombino Apollo to the last quarter of the 2nd century B.C 10 . In 1977, a similar statue was found in Pompeii in 1977. That one too stands in the stiff frontal position of a traditional Archaic Greek kouros, except that they found a tray that he held on his outstretched arms 11 . To look at the two statues, we see that the basic model is the same the differences are in superficial details, such as in the rendering of the hair and of the diadems. These individualizing features were added to the wax working-models, and the two bronzes are two editions of the same basic original model, showing the Hellenistic and Roman attraction to an archaizing Greek type. The measurements are quite different as well, perhaps suggesting the use of drawings as models, and possibly also production in two different workshops 12 . One statue found its home in Pompeii, where it may have been produced, whereas the other was being sent to a different location when it was jettisoned or the cargo-ship went down.

Fig. 7. Piombino Apollo, bronze, Paris, musée du Louvre, inv. Br. 2, H. 117 cm Pompeii Apollo, bronze, Paris, musée du Louvre, inv. no. 22924, H. 128 cm

© Photo courtesy of Kenneth Lapatin.

Conversations on Conservation of Cultural Heritage

The two life-size copper-alloy ancient Greek warrior statues are currently being re-conserved in an open studio at the Regional Council exhibition hall in Calabria, southern Italy.

If you haven't seen these two incredible bronzes, it's really worth having a look at the Riace website - Their conservation and theories about their manufacture are really interesting and quite controversial.

Found by a snorkelling chemist in only eight metres of water in the Ionian sea in 1972, their conservation has been a lengthy and continuing battle against salts and concretions. They were mechanically cleaned for two years in Calabria before being transported to the restoration centre of the Soprintendenza Archeologica of Tuscany for desalination. Unfortunately, the first attempts were carried out with the salt-laden casting cores still inside the statues, so they weren't massively successful.

Work continued through the 1980s and 90s to try to stabilise the bronzes and excavate fully the casting cores, which could only be done through very small holes in the feet of the warriors. A huge amount of information has been revealed and published (in Italian, mostly) in three lavishly illustrated volumes (from 2003, I bronzi di Riace: restauro come conoscenza. Roma:Artemide) and several articles.


The National Archaeological Museum of Reggio Calabria was recognized as among the most prestigious archaeological museums in Italy when it was made autonomous by the MiBACT 2014 reform.

The building that houses it is one of the first in Italy to be designed with the exclusive purpose of a museum. Marcello Piacentini, one of the leading exponents of the early twentieth century, conceived of the museum to have a modern style of exhibition, after he visited the main museums in Europe. Located in the heart of the city, the museum is an important element of the landscape and the life of all Calabria. Located next to De Nava Square in the center of the city, the southern façade faces the shore, with its splendid views of the Strait of Messina.

The National Archaeological Museum was born from the merger of the State Museum with the Museum of Reggio Calabria. The latter was inaugurated on June 18th, 1882, to guard the numerous archaeological remains of the area. Its headquarters were initially in the facilities of the Municipal Library, but with the increase of the collections, between 1887 and 1889, it was moved to a building located next to the Roman baths, recently discovered at that time. During the 1908 earthquake, the Museum building was severely damaged. This accelerated the process of establishing a national archaeological museum, strongly supported by Paolo Orsi, among others, who in 1907 was named the first superintendent of the excavation in Calabria. On May 22nd, 1948, an agreement was signed between the City Council of Reggio Calabria and the General Directorate of Antiquities of the then Ministry of Education. After acquiring these collections from the civic museum, the latter was closed.

Partially opened to the public in 1954 and fully inaugurated in 1959, the Museum has undergone important transformations over the years. In 1981, the underwater archaeological section was created to make a fitting display for the Riace Bronzes, considered among the most significant masterpieces in the world of Greek art. Before the last reorganization, which completely modified the internal structure and the exhibition route, the precious collection of paintings belonging to the Civic Museum was moved to the second floor. It can now be admired in the nearby Municipal Gallery.

In November 2009, the museum was closed for restoration and finally reopened to the public on April 30th, 2016. The principle feature of the current layout is the new inner courtyard, covered by a transparent glass roof, supported by a technologically advanced structure. Thanks to this, the atrium is flooded with light. The basement of the Piacentini Bulding houses two large rooms for temporary exhibitions. In the long side aisle there is a lapidary. The MArRC also has an internal archaeological area: a strip of the great Hellenistic Necropolis discovered during the construction of the building.

Scientific Committee to Determine if Riace Bronzes Can Be Safely Moved to Milan for Expo

Following a heated debate about the possible temporary transfer of the Riace Bronzes from Calabria to Milan for Expo 2015, Cultural Heritage Minister Dario Franceschini has set up a committee of scientific experts to determine whether it is safe for the statues to be moved.

The famous Riace Bronzes are kept at the National Museum of Magna Grecia in Reggio Calabria, 1,200 kilometers from Milan. Some experts fear that even a slight movement could result in the statues’ destruction.

However, leading Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi, recently nominated “Ambassador of Fine Arts for Expo 2015”, said the 2,500-year-old statues should be temporarily transferred to Milan so visitors to the Expo can admire such a precious work of art that is a pride of the Italian art heritage. He said the statues belong to the State, not to the region of Calabria, which therefore should make no resistance to the transfer. As part of his plan, he proposed one third of the Expo ticket sales related to the Riace Bronzes go to Calabria.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said moving the bronzes for the Expo makes no sense: “Why move them when I should be taking visitors from Milan to Reggio?” This idea is backed by Franceschini, who said that the Expo should be an occasion to encourage visitors to extend their stay and explore Italy beyond Milan.

The committee of experts, headed by archeology professor Giuliano Volpe, is expected to deliver their verdict in mid-October.

The Riace Bronzes were moved only once, in 1981, during a tour that stopped at Rome, Venice, and Milan more than one million people paid a visit to the statues.

Watch the video: Robert Miles - Children Dream Version (June 2022).