They are symbols of virility regarded among Italy’s greatest archaeological treasures. But a photographer’s decision to give the Riace Bronzes a pink feather boa and leopard-skin thong makeover has infuriated guardians of the ancient artefacts’ dignity.
A row has broken out after Gerald Bruneau, a student of Andy Warhol’s “pop art” provocations, was given permission to shoot the 2,500-year-old bearded warriors at their museum in Reggio Calabria.
The veteran photographer felt that the imposing nudes, which date from the 5th century BC, could be improved by dressing them in a white tulle veil, fuchsia boa and leopard-print underwear.
The National Archaeological Museum of Reggio Calabria stepped in to halt the shoot when staff discovered Mr Bruneau’s “desecration” of the Greek bronzes, which were discovered off the coast of Calabria in 1972 and finally went on display in southern Italy last year after a lengthy restoration of the museum. The images, published on an Italian website, have been called “terrible” by the museum, and a local politician has now demanded a judicial inquiry. “I love to be provocative,” said Bruneau, who is based in Rome. However, critics raised concerns that the artist may have damaged the statues, which are in an extremely fragile state.
Simonetta Bonomi, the head of the archaeological department at the museum, said permission was given to Mr Bruneau because an earlier shoot with a veil carried out at the Gallery Borghese in Rome had been done tastefully.
“I am always looking for new adventures,” said Ms Binomi, who granted the photographer permission to take one photo with a white veil draped over a statue. She did not approve of the “bad taste” pictures with the feather boa, however.
“Without my knowledge, he took other images that are terrible. When the guards realised what had happened, they stopped him but evidently he had already taken several shots. I see they have been published and I don’t know how.”
Mr Bruneau’s additions prompted a mixed public reaction. “He made the Riace bronzes actually look tacky. Didn’t think that could be possible,” tweeted Rose de Ridder, an archaeologist.
“Can’t quite believe what Gerald Bruneau did to the #riacebronzes. Luckily no damage: just dull, obvious, & puerile,” was another reponse.
However, another linked to the images on the Dagospia website, writing: “Personally, I don’t know why there are complaints. It looks ‘super’.”
The Calabria museum fears the incident will be used by those who wish to take the statues away from their current home. Organisers of next year’s Milan Expo said they should be transferred to Milan for the global event.