Apoxy˛menos, the Bronze Statue from Lussino, Florence
From 1 October 2006 to 30 January 2007
Palazzo Medici Riccardi
The Province of Florence, jointly with the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, is staging another great cultural event of international stature. For the first time the Bronze Statue from Lussino, officially known as "Apoxy˛menos - the Croatian Athlete
", a splendid Roman statue of the 1st century B.C. and a copy of a Greek original from the 4th century B.C. will be on show in the prestigious Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence from 1 October 2006 to 30 January 2007, after a long period of painstaking restoration.
This masterpiece of antique art was recovered from the Adriatic sea in 1999 near the Croatian island of LoÜinj after lying semi-buried in the sand at a depth of 45 metres for over 2000 years. At 1 metre 93 cms high it is imposing work and probably depicts an athlete cleansing himself from the sweat of the competition. The exhibition on the Bronze Statue from Lussino, officially defined "The Croatian Athlete", shows yet again how the Opificio delle Pietre Dure is a world leader in restoring works of art and Florence confirms its stature as a showcase for the world. "This great event at Palazzo Medici Riccardi - says Matteo Renzi President of the Province of Florence - strengthens our vocation of staging art exhibitions and the idea that culture is a crucial factor in the economic development of the Province". The demanding and delicate task of restoration took 4 years and was carried out by the Croatian Institute for Restoration in Zagreb jointly with the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Firenze. This relationship of constructive trust has been built up over the years between the Opificio and the authorities for the conservation and protection of Croatian heritage which has made it possible to organize the exhibition on "The Croatian athlete" and bring it to Florence for its only Italian showing. This historic link was established in 1992 when, in the midst of the war between Serbia and Croatia, the journal "Archeologia Viva" organized an international conference in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio focusing on safeguarding the heritage of Croatia. The publication, edited by Piero Pruneti, was the first to highlight this bronze masterpiece and premiere its discovery of the upper Adriatic, and then its exceptional restoration.
Discovering an antique bronze statue is such a rare and fascinating occurrence that it often has dramatic overtones especially if it is discovered a great depths. First and foremost, there is the fear of not finding it again after identifying it and then there is the delicate operation of salvage so as not to damage the piece and which can sometimes take a very long time. Similar to other bronzes discovered in the sea, this, too, was a lucky find. On 12 July 1997, during a dive off the coast of the island of LoÜinj, the Belgian diver RenŔ Wouters saw a male figure lying on the seabed at a depth of 45 metres just outside the port of Veli Losýnj.
It turned out to be a bronze statue some 2 metres high of the type known as "apoxy˛menos". News of the discovery was kept secret but it got out in the end and, to prevent theft, the statue was recovered in June 1999 and taken to the Croatian police diving centre in LoÜinj where it was put into the training pool. Here began the adventure of the highly delicate restoration operation of the bronze, one of the few works of art from antiquity recovered from the Mediterranean where there still lie many other masterpieces depicting Greek gods and heroes torn from their pedestals by plunderers, never to reach their destination. Indeed, this bronze was unrecognisable, disfigured by the organic calcium deposits that coated it from top to bottom completely altering its aspect. The exceptional, positive fact, however, is that the statue was practically intact except for a piece missing from the left leg.
Restoration of the statue took place in Croatia but was done with the decisive participation of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure of Florence which has always been one of the world's most important organisations for restoring works of art. As soon as the work was recovered in 1999 Miljenko Domijan, head conservationist for the cultural heritage of Croatia requested the help of the Opificio, then directed by Giorgio Bonsanti and, from the following year, Cristina Acidini. In particular, the specialist skills of Giuliano Tordi were called upon to remove the layer of deposit coating the statue. Tordi is one of the few restorers with experience in working on materials (ceramics, metals, woods etc.) salvaged from marine wrecks. The direction of the restoration was entrusted to Ferdinand Meder, director of the Institute of Restoration of Croatia who called on the coordinating skills of Maurizio Micheluzzi, director of the archaeology section of the Opificio. During the whole restoration period, the statue underwent continual washing with acqua non demonizzata. The bronze was emptied by sections and layers through sampling the contents of the inside. This was made possible because the head had separated from the body through the welding alloy decaying due its long stay in the water. Restoration was completed in November 2003 . Afterwards, the problem arose of having to place the statue vertically. Its static fragility meant that the right supporting leg had to be fitted with a sophisticated internal structure in steel and bronze with adjustable tensors to hold the whole figure upright, anchoring it to an anti-seismic base.
All its beauty of this bronze emerged on its restoration. It probably represents an "apoxy˛menos", an athlete cleansing himself from perspiration and the unguents with which he had covered his body after the competition. This work is quite extraordinary in formal terms, one of the few statues in bronze that have reached us from ancient times. It can be dated to the 1st century B.C. and it was created by Greek craftsmen from an archetype of the 4th century B.C. Its arms and legs stretch well out from the trunk following the tradition in form that developed through the technical inroads that Hellenistic art were making and which were to reach their apex with Lysippus. It had a freer concept of space than in statuary of the classic period the highest point of which was Polykleitos (5th century B.C.). These characteristics of movement and space were made possible by indirect Ĺlost-wax' casting and the technique of welding. By using this technique, the Greeks could cast the limbs, the head and the penis triangle separately, then carefully assemble the parts until the whole work was complete. Cleaning and restoration have brought to light sophisticated technical details which initially could only be imagined such as the copper inserts in the nipples and the lips, the mark of a highly developed concept of colour separation, and a "blade of light" between the thighs. The eyes were also assuredly originally in ivory and vitreous paste which unfortunately have been lost. In particular, the hair, plastered "sweat-soaked" on the forehead, is a realistic detail characteristic of the late classic period and the sign of a deep crisis in classicism. Then there is the fascinating issue of attribution to the archetype; we still do not know who the original bronze was sculpted by from which, by mould replication, the few copies of the type have reached us. Another interesting aspect is the absence of pins under the feet of the statue which were generally used to anchor it to a plinth. During the statue's recovery, its base was also discovered which was decorated with a swastika shaped meander on three sides, which was probably meant as a dressing for a stone or marble plinth which, in turn, could indicate that the bronze was set within a wall niche. As regards its history up to now, the experts of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure surmise that on its completion in the first century B.C. the bronze was probably put into storage which was when a mouse made its nest inside it around 20 B.C. (according to the carbon 14 dating carried out on the organic remains discovered) and, finally, in the first half of the 2nd century A.D. was restored and transported towards a port of the upper Adriatic probably on its way to a wealthy Roman villa. This was the last journey of our "apoxy˛menos" because probably the sailors jettisoned the cargo overboard during a storm to lighten the vessel.
The exhibition is open every day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. except Wednesdays. Admission costs 5 euros full price and 3.5 euros reduced.