Classical Greek Sculpture Analysis Riace Bronzes (Statue A) This classical Greek sculpture is titled the Riace Bronzes. The Riace statues are two life-size bronze statues each weighing nearly a ton. Statue A which is depicted above is of a young warrior, while statue B which is not depicted is of an older warrior wearing a helmet. In this analysis I will be concentrating on Statue A. The sculptor of this statue remains unknown; however most experts attribute this statue to Polyclitus, an expert Greek sculptor and mathematician, or one of his many disciples.
The Riace is from the early Classical Period, made around 445 BCE. It was unexpectedly discovered in the Ionian Sea along with an ancient shipwreck off the coast of southern Italy in 1972. It was restored to its present condition. It once held a lance or spear like weapon in its right hand and a shield strapped to its left forearm. Possessions of weapons such as a shield and spear have earned the statue the title of warrior-hero.
However, according to Dr.
Jennifer Henrichs of Louisiana State University the statue “exhibits a visible headband thought to be the crowning base for a victory wreath typically reserved for champions” (Henrichs 15), implying that the statue might be of that of an Olympic athlete instead of a warrior. The statue is poised for action but still relaxed, trying to represent physical perfection. This potential energy presented is typical of Greek Classical Period art. The Riace shows that the Greeks valued athleticism and had a warrior culture.
They admired men that possessed strong physical qualities and took care of their bodies. The most significant lines in the Riace are of course the long vertical lines, especially of the legs which were made to be as long as the upper torso, thus making the sculpture very symmetrical, an attribute which was highly valued by Greek society. Also there is a strong division separating the upper and lower torsos by diagonal lines in the form of abdomen muscles. The shape is definitely not geometrical but naturalistic.
The soft S-shaped lines form a realistic human form giving it a graceful but still powerful human figure. The high definition of the pectorals and the abdominal muscles are indicative of someone who is in prime physical condition and aware of a fine-toned body. The firm grip of the left hand and the outward gaze convey energy and alertness to his surroundings. He is standing in a Contrapposto stance, meaning that most of his weight is balanced on one leg, in this case the right leg is behind the left. His physique is however, an exaggeration.
In his book How Art Made the World, Nigel Spivey writes about the Riace Bronze, “Division between top and bottom has been exaggerated by a crest of muscle across the waist that is more defined that can ever be on a real person” (Spivey). He also states how the “central channel of the spine is deeper than you will ever see on a real person and to improve the line of its back; this man has no coccyx bone at the base of its spine” (Spivey). This shows that the sculptor, whoever he was lived in a time where human perfection was heavily admired.
Even though the statue is naturalistic, it is unrealistic due to the incredible symmetry and perfection being displayed. The median used for this sculpture was bronze. The only part of this sculpture that was not bronze was its teeth that were made out of silver. The Riace however was hollow and not made of solid bronze, which is essential for a piece of art that was meant to be moved. Bronze is usually more durable than heavy marble sculptures because the heavy limbs of marble statues fall off due to their weight, especially if that limb happens to be an arm that is raised or held away from the body.
The Riace has kept all his limbs due to its lightweight design. The scale of the statue also attests to the flexibility of the medium with it measuring nearly seven feet in height. The bronze is finely finished on all sides, so we can be sure he was made to be viewed from all sides. Since he is nude, the color and surface qualities of bronze have a special importance. With the awareness that the statue was intended to be viewed in the nude, a more genuine affinity to the human form could be obtained in bronze, especially since colored inlays further enhanced the appropriateness of the metal.
The Riace is an open work meant to be seen and admired from all sides. It is a man who is relaxed but ready for action at anytime, a warrior, perhaps an Olympian athlete, someone that the Greeks obviously admired. It is an exaggerated sculpture with its perfect body but the Greeks found this exaggeration more entertaining and pleasing to the eye than boring realistic statues. The Riace statues were probably created to admire warriors or athletes. No one really knows for sure.
One thing that is for sure is that the Greek culture of games and exercise contributed greatly to the statue’s physique. The statue reflects the values the ancient Greeks had around the Classical Period. They were a philosophical people but also a warlike people and used to war. Admiration for warriors or athletes therefore came as no surprise. However, warriors were also to be graceful, not just stone wall looking objects like in ancient Egypt and the archaic period of ancient Greece. A warrior had to be poised for action but still relaxed or “more human than human” (Spivey).
The main difference between this Classical Period statue and those of the archaic Greek and ancient Egyptian’s is movement. Thought the Riace Bronze is not moving, it looks like it’s about to. It has what scientists call an action potential. It is free standing and can be admired from all sides. It’s like someone took a photograph of a perfect warrior in the midst of movement. These types of statues owe a lot to mathematicians like Polyclitus, because an essential understanding of mathematics was needed to create such illusions of movement.
Also the intrinsic details especially of the face come in sharp contrast to the mass produced looking statues of the Egyptians. The Riace Bronze with its naturalistic but unrealistic symmetry and human perfection, its Contrapposto pose with one side in motion while the other is at rest is a quintessential example of a Greek Classical Period statue. Depicting not a god or high priest but an athlete, a warrior, an everyday guy blessed with unrealistic muscularity and proportion. The Greeks loved the human body and wanted to see its perfection without robes or clothes to hide it.
Poses became more naturalistic instead of the rigid kouros of the archaic period and the cookie cutter sculptures of the pharaohs. We may not know who exactly made the Riace Bronze or why was it made, but one thing is for sure, it is an incredible sculpture that was ingeniously made and represents classical Greece. Works Cited Henrichs, Jennifer. The Riace Bronzes: A Comparative Study In Style And Technique. Louisiana State University, 2005. Spivey, Nigel. How Art Made the World. London: Basic Books, 2006.
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