Colossus of Barletta
Constantinople, late 4th or 5th century
Bronze Original about 5.1 m (now 3.6 m)
Located at Barletta, outside the Church of S. Sepolcro
The emperor, who is at, or past, middle age, wears the jeweled diadem, two tunics under a cuirass, and a mantle over all; his right hand once held a lance or standard, while his left supported a much larger globe. The full figure is approximately three times life-size.
The emperor, who is at, or past middle age, wears two jeweled tunics under the cuirass, and a mantle over the cuirass. The cuirass is tied with a commander’s sash and pelta-shaped fasteners, one of which is preserved on the right hip. The round flaps attached to its bottom edge are decorated with snake-haired and winged gorgoneia; under them is a skirt of leather straps with fringed ends covering the tunica visible above the knees. The mantle is fastened on the right shoulder by a now lost fibula, but traces of its pendilia with ends in the form of pearls are still visible on the surface of the mantle itself.
The right arm is raised and holds a cross. This was added in the 15th century; originally the statue probably brandished a spear or a labarum, now lost. The left arms holds a globe (smaller than the original one) and the falling mantle covered nearly the whole left side of the body.
The face is asymmetrically fixed in something like a grimace, with complicated eyebrows framing the determined stare. A light beard is indicated by chisel marks, while the hair falls in a roll from under the diadem, the strands carefully delineated.
In contrast to local tradition at Barletta which has long identified the statue as Heraclius, modern scholars have identified it with various emperors from Honorius onwards. The coiffure resembles that of the Theodosian rulers, except for the strong omega line over the brow, found only in fifth-century portraits like that of Theodosius II (see Head of Theodosius II at the Louvre). Because of similarities to coiffures of portraits identified with Aelia Flacilla (see statuette at the Cabinet des Médailles), on the one hand, and Theodora, on the other, the colossus has been identified with emperors from Valentinian I to Heraclius, and has even been called Carolingian.
From a stylistic point of view, the closest resemblance is offered by the portrait of Eutropius from Ephesus, which has the same crystalline surfaces and etched linear details and the same hourglass outline of large, encompassing curves. It also resembles the porphyry head of an emperor set in the balustrade of the exterior balcony of the basilica of San Marco in Venice, the so-called ‘Carmagnola’, and some diptychs, all dated to the mid or the second half of the fifth century.
It has been argued that the bronze statue was set on the Column for Marcian in Constantinople, the base of which still bears a figure of Victory in relief with drapery details not unlike those of the Barletta colossus. However, the scale of the colossus seems to be too large for Marcian's column (which is only 8,74 m high). The statue is however compatible with the scale of the upper drum, Corinthian capital and plinth of the Column of Leo erected by his sister Euphemia at the Pittakia, northeast of Hagia Sophia, and may possibly have come from here.
This location seems to confirm local tradition according to which the colossus was taken by the Venetians from Constantinople (possibly in 1204) but lost in a shipwreck on the Apulian coast during a storm. Certainly Constantinople is much the most likely place of origin for an imperial colossus of the late 4th or 5th century. The statue washed up in the harbor of Barletta in 1309, presumably from an Adriatic shipwreck. The statue was restored in 1431 by an artist named Fabio Alfano who cast both legs from the bottom of the tunic down; the right arm, including elbow; and the left arm from edge of mantle. Missing are: the top of the head above the diadem, and the fibula at the right shoulder.
The lost-wax casting is extraordinarily thin for the scale of the figure which may account for the worn spots on certain surfaces and for some of the above-mentioned losses. However, these may be ascribable to the fact that in the 14th century Dominicans were allowed to use the bronze of the statue for the founding of bells for their monastery in Manfredonia.
According to Delbrueck, traces of gilding on flesh surfaces are identifiable, a fact denied by von Heintze; Delbrueck also mentions silver in whites of eyes, niello in pupils, and tin eyelashes.