Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Riace Bronzes: warriors from a watery grave

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 current conservation programme seems to be aiming to undertake chemical cleaning with benzotriazole, to investigate the solders used and to map the ancient repairs. It would have been so interesting to see how this could be accomplished in front of the public, and how the interventions were explained. Unfortunately, there was no time or money for a field trip to Calabria! But if you find yourself in that part of the world, do try to visit the Regional Council exhibition -

1 comment:

  1. I find this case fascinating for various reasons. First of all, what a lucky chemist! I wonder if he was involved in the subsequent conservation of the statues.
    Second, the conservation treatments the statues have received delineate a recent history for conservation itself.
    It is really unfortunate the core was not investigated before the intervention but... better late than never! And, they seem to be investing a lot of resources on investigative conservation now.
    This is indeed a good reason to go to Calabria, or brush up your Italian so to be able to read the publications!


My blog list