The Riace Bronzes, masterpiece of classical art, were realised in Argos in the Peloponnese, in the fifth century BC. Then, in the first century AD, the statues were brought to Rome, where they were restored, and today the two sculptures are preserved in the Archaeological Museum of Reggio Calabria.
The accurate study on the signs left on the bronze statues allowed us to recognize the presence of a Corinthian helmet, a spear, and a hoplite shield on the Bronze A. Such elements were also present on the Bronze B, where it is also possible to recognize a leather cap with a curled neckroll, and earflaps tied with a chinstrap. This cap, called korinthie kyne, was the sign of the King, the tyrant, or the strategist, and it can be found in hundreds of artworks in various fields, such as statuary, numismatics, and pottery.
The reconstruction of the missing attributes, combined with other ascertained scientific data, as the analysis of casting cores of the Bronzes, demonstrated their realisation in Argo, in the Peloponnese; and the literary testimonies concerning them directed the research to the Greek myth of the “Seven against Thebes”. The confirmation came from the accurate confrontations with Attic sarcophagi, cinerary urns, and other ceramic material from the second century AD, which was also the time when the Bronze B were restored through the realization of the right arm and the left forearm, because the original parts were damaged.
Archaeological studies had already identified in the five figures portrayed in this material class, the powerful echo of the group of the Fratricides of Pythagoras of Reggio, the biggest and most celebrated bronze worker of the ancient world. The group of statues was created in Argo, where the “Seven against Thebes” were/had a heroic cult, and then it was moved to Rome during the first century BC.
In Rome the Riace Bronzes were seen by some authors and executors of works of art that reproduced them on various materials, then the statues sailed for their last trip to the New Rome, Constantinople by order of the emperor Constantine the Great or his son Constantius II in the fourth century AD. However, the trip ended unexpectedly near a Roman port in the town that today is called Riace, where the statues were found.
As regards the interpretation of the characters, an important part is taken by the myth of Eteocles and Polyneices, sons of Oedipus and Eurigania (according to the version of Stesichor and Metaurus).
After the end of the governance of Oedipus, tyrant of Thebes, the power was supposed to pass to his sons, who agreed in this way: they would have governed in one-year shifts, so that while a brother was in power, the other was in exile. The first one who exercised the power was Eteocles and, after the deadline of his turn he did not want to leave the government to Polyneices.
For this reason, the two brothers fought in a duel, and they killed each other. In the subsequent generation, the Epigones, the sons of the Seven, guided by the son of Polyneices, managed to conquer the city of Thebes, avenging their fathers.
The most recent chapter in the research on the Riace Bronzes concerns their colour; in this respect we followed a scientific way, based on the intersection of literary sources and archaeometric data.
The central point concerns the insights on the usage of a percentage of tin which gives the bronze a golden colour. Every strand of hair and the beard had a different percentage of tin, in order to give extraordinary effects to the overall performance. In addition, Pythagoras of Reggio used the “liver of sulphur” for colouring the skin, because it modifies and darkens the colour of the bronze.
English translation by Corinna Castrizio.