Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Riace Warriors

The Riace Warriors, c. 475-50 BCE, bronze. A is on the left, B on the right.

These guys are good examples of Greek bronzes from the early Classical period. They are named for the village in Calabria, in Southern Italy, near which they were found. They were no doubt in a shipwreck, or possibly a storm so dangerous the captain had to jettison the cargo. Too bad for him, but lucky for us.

They stand in similar poses, holding a spear in their left hand and a shield in their right; obviously, both are now missing. A was crowned by a diadem and wreath, B with a helmet, also gone, making them seem unusually bald on top.

Their names are A and B, a formality which serves to distinguish them, but which hardly identifies them. They have always looked Italian to me, but I assume that is because of the Riace moniker. Although they look alike, when we look again we see obvious differences. A is younger, more alert, and in great physical condition. B, by contrast, is older, less fit, and, though alert, seems to be somewhat less concerned.

Although they can not be dated for certain, they are clearly from that glorious period known as the Early Classical. This style combines the Greek fascination with geometrical abstraction with a new interest in rendering the human body in a naturalistic way. Their poses are both arranged in contrapposto , with the weight on one leg, which sets off a series of reactions in the rest of the body alternating the tense with the relaxed. This makes bodies appear energetic, poised, and, if not actually moving, about to move, or, even, thinking about it. Artists at this time are clearly becoming increasingly interested in exploring dimensions of human consciousness by portraying the body and the face in particular ways. Perhaps this accounts for the single artist - if it was a single artist - exploring two states of consciousness in these two pieces.