Archaeologists believed the copy of spear-bearer had been destroyed in the Second World War
Among the surprises in the British Museum’s exhibition on Greek sculpture is an important early 20th century bronze copy which most archaeologists assumed had been destroyed during the Second World War. It is a reconstruction of the famous Doryphoros (spear-bearer), made in around 1920 by the German sculptor Georg Römer. He based it on three Roman marble copies of the lost Greek original by Polykleitos of around 440 to 430 BC.
Römer’s copy has had a chequered history. In 1921 it was used as a focal point of a First World War memorial in the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. In 1944, during the Second World War, the building was bombed by the Allies.
Although the bronze was rescued from the rubble, archaeologists assumed after the war that it had been destroyed. “Even today it is usually written that the Römer copy was lost,” says Ian Jenkins, curator of the British Museum exhibition. The statue had indeed lost its lower legs, eyes and spear, but it was restored in the 1950s and quietly put back in the reconstructed university building.
The Römer bronze is being lent for the first time, to the British Museum’s “Defining Beauty: the Body in Ancient Greek Art” (26 March-5 July). In London it is dramatically spotlighted in the introductory section of the exhibition, alongside the Parthenon Marble of Ilissos, which has just returned from loan to the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.