The Chimera of Arezzo is regarded as the best example of ancient Etruscan artwork. British art historian, David Ekserdjian, described the sculpture as “one of the most arresting of all animal sculptures and the supreme masterpiece of Etruscan bronze-casting.” Made entirely of bronze and measuring 78.5 cm high with a length of 129 cm, it was found alongside a small collection of other bronze statues in Arezzo, an ancient Etruscan and Roman city in Tuscany. The statue was originally part of a larger sculptural group representing a fight between a Chimera and the Greek hero Bellerophon. This sculpture was likely created as a votive offering to the Etruscan god Tinia.
History of the Chimera
According to Greek mythology the Chimera or “she-goat” was a monstrous, fire-breathing hybrid creature of Lycia in Asia Minor, created by the binding of multiple animal parts to create a singular unnatural creature. As the offspring of Typhon and Echidna, the Chimera ravaged the lands of Lycia at a disastrous pace. Distressed by the destruction of his lands, the king of Lycia, Iobates, ordered a young warrior named Bellerophon to slay the dreaded Chimera, also as a favor to a neighboring king, Proetus. Proteus wanted Bellerophon dead because his wife accused him of ravishing her, and he assumed that the warrior would perish in the attempt to kill the beast. Bellerophon set out on his winged horse, Pegasus, and emerged victorious from his battle, eventually winning not only the hand of Iobates’ daughter but also his kingdom. It is this story that led art historians to believe that the Chimera of Arezzo was originally part of a group sculpture that included Bellerophon and Pegasus. Votive offerings for the Gods often depicted mythological stories. A round hole on the left rump of the Chimera might suggest a spot where Bellerophon may have struck the beast with a now-missing spear. The first known literary reference was in Homer’s Iliad, and the epic poetry of Hesiod in the 8th century BCE also mentions the Chimera.
In response to questions of the statue’s true meaning, Vasari wrote in his Reasonings Over the Inventions He Painted in Florence in the Palace of Their Serene Highnesses:
“Yes, sir, because there are the medals of the Duke my lord who came from Rome with a goat’s head stuck in the neck of this lion, who as he sees VE, also has the serpent’s belly, and we found the queue that was broken between those bronze fragments with many metal figurines that you’ve seen all, and the wounds that she has touched on show it, and yet the pain that is known in the readiness of the head of this animal …”
The tail was not restored until 1785 when the Pistoiese sculptor Francesco Carradori (or his teacher, Innocenzo Spinazzi) fashioned a replacement, incorrectly positioning the serpent to bite the goat’s horn. It is much more likely that the snake had to strike out against Bellerophon instead, since biting the head of the goat meant it was biting itself. Inscribed on its right foreleg is an inscription in the ancient Etruscan language. It has been variously deciphered, but most recently it is thought to read TINSCVIL, meaning: “Offering belonging to Tinia”, indicating that the bronze was a votive object dedicated to the supreme Etruscan god of day, Tin or Tinia. The original statue is estimated to have been created around 400 BCE.
In 1718, the sculpture was transported to the Uffizi Gallery and later, along with the remaining collection Cosimo I had originally seized, taken to the Palazzo della Crocetta. Court intellectuals of the time considered the Chimera of Arezzo to be a symbol of the Medici domination of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Its permanent residence is in the National Archaeological Museum in Florence where it was placed on brief loan to the Getty Villa for an exhibition in 2010.
The sculpture was probably commissioned by an aristocratic clan or a prosperous community and erected in a religious sanctuary near the ancient Etruscan town of Arezzo, about 50 miles southeast of Florence. The Chimera was one of a hoard of bronzes that had been carefully buried for safety sometime in classical antiquity. A bronze replica now stands near the spot of its original discovery.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia