Italy Risks Priceless Riace Bronzes for Cash

The Riace Bronzes Photo: Itsa Llgreek via All Things Greek

Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini is weighing whether to ship the world-renowned Riace Bronzes from their home in Calabria, over 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) north to Milan. In the proposed plan, the pair of statues would travel to the next Universal Exposition, EXPO 2015, for a period of six months. However, many experts believe that even a slight movement could result in the nearly 2,500-year-old-statues’ destruction. There’s no telling, they say, what havoc such a lengthy trip could wreak.

Known interchangeably as the Riace Bronzes or the Riace Warriors, the pair of life size statues depict naked Greek warriors and were created between 460–420 BC. They are currently housed at the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia in a climate controlled room on pedestals designed to minimize even the slightest movement due to seismic or other activity. First discovered in 1972, they underwent nine years of conservation before emerging to great fanfare in 1981. They recently underwent a second round of restoration from 2010–2011 while the museum was also undergoing renovations.

President of the Lombardy region (of which Milan is the Capital) Roberto Maroni and art critic Vittorio Sgarbi wrote a letter to the culture minister on Wednesday outlining their request and rationale for the loan. According to the duo of politicians, claims regarding the Riace Bronzes’ fragility have been grossly overstated in an attempt to keep them—and the economic boon they create via tourism—confined to Calabria.

They intend to display the bronzes prominently in either EXPO 2015′s Italian Pavilion or to create a special pavilion for them sponsored by the Lombardy region. In return, Maroni and Sgarbi have offered one third of the ticket sales related to the Riace Bronzes to go to Calabria. They estimate that will amount to €5 million. Considering southern Italy’s consistently monumental budgetary deficit, such an offer is not insignificant.

For his part, Franceschini has reportedly ordered an independent panel of experts to judge whether the bronzes are fit for travel or if the move is too dangerous, regardless of economic benefit.

Francesco Ali and Pasquale Amato, of the Committee for the Advancement of the Riace Bronzes and the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia in Reggio Calabria, reject both Lombardy’s request and Francschini’s appointment of the external panel wholesale. Ali and Amato call the latter move an affront to 40 years of expertise that has repeatedly cautioned that the bronzes should not be moved unless absolutely necessary.

The pair also worry that the very existence of such an independent panel means that the government has already decided to send the bronzes to Milan and is simply looking for public approval. They say that such a move—despite Franceschini’s recent call to align his office’s dual goals of tourism generation and cultural heritage protection —would indicate that the former, and thus economic concerns are driving cultural policy with little regard for the well-being of the country’s prized artifacts. 

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